Teaching Schools to Reform
Modern day education needs to be changed. No one takes the time to think about it and really wonder if the newly coming graduates are prepared enough to lead their lives in the outside world. We don’t question anything and find it odd when students go off to college and end up failing out. Or in fact, they might not even make it to college. Something needs to be done to keep our world working at the highest quality.
High school students tend to get the same curriculum. They partake in similar courses year by year with a schedule pushed upon them. Each student spends 4 years learning the same things, the same general things, and then gets sent off to college or wherever they shall go. With a broad plain of general knowledge how far can they go without roadblocks. Now we can think about the other side. “Useful knowledge”. The knowledge that prepares the students for the outside world of college and beyond. For myself, I think that I received an education providing me with useful knowledge from my time before college. I opted into the choice to attend a vocational school with a wide range of career focused academies, in which I had partaken in the engineering academy. We had our normal classes that each student would have but mixed in courses made specifically to teach us about the fields and give us knowledge to pursue career options in the future, as well as to prepare for college with an understanding of what we are going in for. Whereas, at some non-vocational schools, this isn’t the case. These courses aren’t available to students and their readiness for the world after high school is much less decorated than those who have such experience. I went into high school thinking about what I wanted to do and ultimately being driven away from it, as I am now pursuing computer science over engineering. I made this decision while I was in high school, where some students are going into college thinking they want to do something and two years later realizing it isn’t for them, wasting their time and money when they could have been exposed to this years before.
Not all students will know what they want to do in the future when coming into high school, or even college for that matter. Whereas others feel as if they know exactly what they want to do. Based on the school, these two completely different students may get the exact same curriculum regardless of what they are pursuing because of the lack of availability of courses. Or maybe, even the first student may have considered following some of these courses and getting an early head start on their college path. Both of these students, devoted to a career or not, may still be at the same level of understanding when entering college when either may have the potential to exceed what has been given to them. This is the importance of variety. Yes, everyone should get their general knowledge in school, but general just is not enough. For example, let’s say a student who wants to pursue computer science may be stuck into a curriculum where they have to take a course that does not correlate with their intended path at all, is easily replaced at a different school with a full computer science focused course. This student may be completely left behind, where they could have gotten this education and been right on track with everyone else in their same field.
As said by the author of Career Education Now, Sidney P Marland Jr, “It is terribly important to teach a youngster the skills he needs to live, whether we call them academic or vocational, whether he tends to make his living with a wrench or a slide rule or a folio of Shakespeare. But it is critically important to equip that youngster to live his life as a fulfilled human being”. She is 100% correct in this judgement. Say, for example, a student is looking into internships or job options after high school and each one describes a specific set of requirements that they would not even think possible at their age because of what they have been given. All the while, another student was given the exact subjects and materials that they need from their schooling system for this position. In any case student A with the right resources could be much more capable of a task than student B, but because student A wasn’t exposed to any of these such things, they are ages behind. Falling behind can lead to needing more classes which can result in more work and more unnecessary stress for students who would otherwise be excelling in their fields.
A portion of students do tend to drop out and this can be for a multitude of reasons. Another reason for this tendency to drop out, and you wouldn’t think of it at first, the knowledge these kids are receiving is just plain boring. The students aren’t engaged in the courses and feel as if dropping out will be better for them. In the writing College Knowledge the authors, Sarah Hooker and Betsy Brand state, “High school dropouts report that their primary reason for leaving school were that the classes were uninteresting or irrelevant to the world beyond high school or that they felt alienated and unsupported”. These students are looking for something that they can look forward to that can help them achieve a bright future and the result of it not being given to them is truly sad. “Approximately 7200 students drop out of U.S. schools each day, adding up to 1.3 million students annually”. It is a ridiculous number to think about. 1 of those 1.3 million students a year could do something spectacular in this world and create a bright future for us all if they had stuck to the schooling path, but instead we lose just one more bright pupil to the absolutely dull curriculum of modern day schooling.
Keeping students engaged is one of, if not, the most important thing for schooling. Teaching every student, no matter where they wanna go or what they wanna be, the same knowledge produces a bad look on the schooling system and really makes you think, what are we even teaching the kids these days? Students should be given the resources they need and be taught things that will progress their education to a point where they feel confident and ready to enter college, and soon after the working world. Schooling that gives a student the right tools to further their education tends to show much greater results than schooling which does not. Sometimes it feels like these schools aren’t trying and results will show their “general knowledge” is simply outclassed by the “useful knowledge” achieved by those eager and ready to enter adult life.
I was lucky enough to have a choice here. When going into high school I had two main options, to attend my local high school or apply for a vocational school in my county, to which I chose the latter. For my four years I was leaving my friends behind and going into a new environment. I got to meet new people, focus on courses that would correspond with what career field I wanted to go into, and most importantly which I value the most, the major head start I have against other students in college and career readiness. Comparing the curriculum of those students who went to my local high school with those in the high school I attended was like night and day. Students who were in the same courses as me the year prior to high school graduated with about the same amount of courses I took in my freshman and sophomore year, and I was given transferable college credits for some of the courses I had taken. In addition to those credits, I was able to attend a community college for my senior year and transfer credits when I fully attended college which with all credits added up, going in as a freshman I had enough credits that I show up as a sophomore because I have completed so many classes. Friends of mine that went to my local high school didn’t seem to have as much opportunity as me. After seeing the disparity between my two choices I am a firm believer that teaching career focused curriculum and early college options results in a great head start for students entering college.
As stated by Joel Vargas, the author of Blending high school and college can sharpen the focus of each, “Earning a high school diploma is a necessary but insufficient step toward supporting oneself and one’s family”. This is the complete truth. What he is saying is just because you have the high school diploma, doesn’t mean you will be able to hold or obtain a job solely based on that fact. No engineering firm or medical center will hire you just because you graduated high school. There will always be something more that has to be done to prepare for such a position. That is where the blending of high school and college comes in, which I experienced first hand and was very glad I did so, and it wasn’t just my school where the results showed. In the article, early college students were compared to regular high school goers in three different categories, graduation rate, post graduation accolades, and likelihood to persist in higher education. The results were as follows: 90% of early college students graduated high school compared to 78% annually, 30% of early college students earn an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate with their high school diploma compared to very few nationally, and that early college graduates are more likely to persist in higher education and to earn a degree than those who did not attend early college.
Students dropout of school and this fact will probably never change. The big question behind this though, is why. Why do these students dropout and what can we do to decrease the numbers of student dropouts per year? Give the students a choice. It is highly more likely that a student in a class they are interested in will produce greater results and efforts than a class they are much more dissatisfied with. For example, someone who loves working with computers will most definitely feel more willing to take a class focused around computer software than one where they are not. As stated in College Knowledge by Sarah Hooker and Betsy Brand “High school dropouts report their primary reasons for leaving school were that classes were uninteresting or irrelevant to the world beyond high school”. Each student is different and like what they like so when what they are interested in isn’t an option, it feels like there is no reason to participate. That is where career academies and early college high schools change the game.
Career academies provide a wide arrangement of different fields to be focused in such as engineering, medical, computer science, and construction just to name a few. The layouts for each career academies across schools is obviously different but they each tend to get their job done. Their job being to give the students a learning environment with concentration focused curriculums for different fields and hands on experience. I can say from personal experience that I am not one who loves the cookie cutter schooling format where each kid comes in every year and takes a math class, an english class, etc, and each year just seems to be a higher level repeat of the last. Whereas, in high school, I had courses concentrated towards different parts of the engineering field and many more math courses that would put me ahead of my peers. This isn’t just the fact that I was ahead of the game, but I was enjoying what I was doing and eager and much more willing to do good in these classes, and the results showed.
This isn’t only for me as the career academy approach has engaged and encouraged students for multiple decades and still proves to be working. As we see in “High School Career Academies: A 40-Year Proven Model for Improving College and Career Readiness”, the author, Betsy Brand states “career academies are one of the very few educational models that has developed “National Standards of Practice” to encourage continuous improvement”. This is a great point and what we need to start doing more of. Putting someone in a position that they don’t want to be in or don’t feel comfortable with and giving them an objective will not produce results comparable to those in their comfort zone. Schools need to be willing to work with the students and cater to their needs and interests. Students will be much more willing to work with their schools to the highest potential if the effort they put in is being matched by the schooling system. A fair trade consists of both sides producing efforts to fit each side of the deal and if one side isn’t following through, don’t expect results of the highest degree because that isn’t a fair trade, that is just a scam.
No questions seem to arise on the topic of children’s schooling simply based on the fact that the results produced seem good enough for people. We’ve all heard the quote “if it isn’t broke, why fix it”, so why should we implement a new reformed education style if the current techniques work? I would like to think of this in a sense of, yes, it may work, but can it be better, or, is this the true potential the educational system can reach? Are we really alright with our education now? Each student takes the same courses, gets taught all the general concepts of said courses, and is off to college or wherever they may go after their schooling ends. But can these students really say that they have mastered these courses? What students receive today in schooling is the outline, not the full picture, and this needs to be changed.
In the article Can Depth Replace Coverage in the High School Curriculum?, the author, Fred W. Newmann, talks about, as mentioned in the title, two different factors to look at in teaching: depth and coverage. “We expose students to broad surveys of the disciplines and to endless sets of skills and competencies”. Coverage endorses quantity over quality. Classes are set up in a way so every single topic is covered to a broad extent instead of important topics being practiced and mastered. To master something, you must practice it and continue to use and build off of it, so if something is taught one day and the next day an entirely new topic is forced onto you with no relevance to the prior topic. If this pattern stays true, how is someone supposed to master something? “They passively allow teachers and textbooks to pour materials into their heads, where they will store it for future use in educational exercise. However, the press to “cover” offers little opportunity to develop that material in ways that will help students meet more authentic intellectual challenges.” Think of it like so, there is only so much water each day to water plants. Adding more plants means there is less water for each plant and overall a more unhealthy growth on each plant. There may be a lot of plants but they aren’t the best they can possibly be. Whereas, say there are a few important plants to water and look after. Water is even distributed and the plants are each being developed evenly. Inevitably, much better results will be produced from this group.
Now, we can look at the quality side, or what we call here: depth. As I have stated before, you cannot expect someone to master all aspects of a topic at once and instead need to focus and build upon certain elements to fully master them. “Depth has been summarized as “less is more.” Now I know how this sounds, less knowledge is more? That makes no sense. What Newmann means by less in this sense is the majority of surface level information. Whereas information taught with much more depth has a greater tendency to be retained and used more beneficially. This said information is usually expanded upon year by year, class by class, and applicable in classes other than the one it was taught in.
If this knowledge is so great then why isn’t it applied to all classes then by now? Obviously, the implementation of more in depth teaching will come with complications. “We must recognize that the point of education is, in a sense, to cover material — that is, to expose students to and make them familiar with new information”. That is the whole point behind school, to expose us to these ideas and things and as an end goal to truly “be educated”. In today’s society what really is it to “be educated”. To master multiple subjects and topics letting us be able to apply them to our daily lives. We are under the illusion that because the teaching works, then it doesn’t need to be changed. One cannot possibly learn all there is to learn about subjects in their time in school so they get taught the basics and move on. They feel as if this is fine and fall into the trap of general education. If this implementation were to go through, other problems would be uprooted among students as well. More in depth learning leads to more in depth work which may be a complete change of pace from what each student is used to and content with, which could cause complications in learning such as burnout and even the possibility of dropping out.
With these problems, comes solutions. If the curriculum is to be changed then aspects of it need to be changed to accommodate it. Newmann states these aspects as “assessments, textbook selection, state curriculum requirements, school improvement programs, and teacher education. First of all, assessments need change. Multiple choice memorization questions don’t actually show the use of knowledge if someone can just remember a quote from a textbook or teacher. All the small surface level information questions can be removed and replaced with questions that can demonstrate the example of the students mastery of the topics. Second, textbook selection should be focused on in depth details and not just a data dump aimed just for basic exposure of the topics. Third, state curriculum requirements need to work together to create a system for students to get more in depth learning with less redundant electives and unnecessary, useless work. Fourth, schools must be willing to help the students in need and provide them services able to help them if they are having trouble working in depth. Someone can’t just fully comprehend a subject by reading quotes in a book but must be actively engaging in the material. Finally, teachers need to be teaching what is useful and not just what is on the table of contents. Degrees can be earned by just reciting information read once before where instead it should be the teachers job to fully grasp the students and devote great portions of their teaching to the in-depth studies of their respective academic areas.
The people seem to be okay with students playing a memory game to see who will prosper and who will fail. The schooling system needs to be reformed somehow and some way to incorporate actual engagement and useful information. Give the students a choice, they are the ones you are teaching and someday could be teaching the next group of students if they are given the resources they need to achieve their goal. The students today are the people running the world tomorrow but not if they are dropping out of school before they are even given a fair chance to play their part in society.
Marland, Sidney. “Career Education Now.” Sagepub, 1 May 1971, journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/019263657105535501
Brand, Betsy. “High School Career Academies: A 40-Year Proven Model for Improving College and Career Readiness.” Givewell, Nov. 2009, files.givewell.org/files/unitedstates/NAF/Betsy%20Brand%20AYPF%20Career%20Academy%20paper.pdf.
Hooker, Sarah. “College Knowledge: A Critical Component of College and Career Readiness.” Onlinelibrary-Wiley-Com, 2010, onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/doi/epdf/10.1002/yd.364.
Newmann, Fred M. “Can Depth Replace Coverage in the High School Curriculum?” JSTOR, Jan. 1988, www-jstor-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/stable/20403629?seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents.
Vargas, Joel, et al. “Blending High School and College Can Sharpen the Focus of Each.” Sagepub, 23 Oct. 2017, journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/0031721717739587.