Monday, December 22, 2008

The American Education System

A few good reads over the last month got me thinking about the American Education System, particularly what’s wrong with it. Although each book had a contrasting focus, I found the overlap in education profound. The two books in question are Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, and Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In Made to Stick, the authors attribute the gap in math proficiency by many K-12 students to teachers not using enough concrete examples. The Heath brothers, explain that concrete language is the language of novices. It’s only after people grasp basic concepts that they can begin to think about them abstractly. The reason American K-12 students lag behind other countries is because American students are introduced to considerably less concrete examples than their foreign counterparts. Of course, I’m over simplifying here, but that was the gist.

On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell raises the point of summer vacation as a culprit for America’s education woes. Gladwell explains that summer vacation provides students with a lengthy gap in which students are often left to forget most of what they learned. When students return to school, the teacher often spends weeks reiterating what was taught during the previous year. What I found interesting about this was the gap in learning retention between the upper and lower class after students returned to school after summer. A study showed upper class children performed significantly better than lower class children when retested at the end of summer. Gladwell goes on to explain that upper class children are generally offered many more opportunities to reinforce learning during the summer than lower class children, indirectly making a case for year-round schools.

Whether either suggestion offered by the authors above is merely correlated or it’s causal, I thought the authors did a great job at peaking my interest enough to think long and hard about the education my children are getting. For that, I give a tip of the hat to the Heath brothers and Malcolm Gladwell.