Is this the best we can do for our kids?

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Deron Durflinger, a high school principal in Van Meter, Iowa, says:

We need a system that isn’t based on doing well on NAEP and PISA, but in which students are able to actually develop a love for learning. Being able to adapt and learn more and newer skills is the world our students live in and will continue to live in.

This idea is based on the notion that what students are asked to know and be able to do will remain the same as they are now, and I haven’t seen any increased expectations in this regard. Making the Common Core more clear and definitive isn’t going to help students develop a love of learning, nor is it going to raise the level of expectations for students in Iowa. It will however, help adults measure how well students can fill out bubble sheets.

Is this the best we can do for kids in Iowa?

I might modify that to say, “Is this the best we can do for kids in America?

We can work on inputs (e.g., teacher quality, standards) and outputs (e.g., assessment) all we want as educators and policymakers. But until we change the process of what kids do on a day-to-day basis, we will fail to realize the systemic changes we need in our children’s learning environments. We must start teaching in a way that helps kids see relevance and helps them actually care about what they’re supposed to learn so that they don’t just memorize it short-term and then forget it as soon as possible.

We learn what we do. We ignore student boredom and lack of engagement at our peril.

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

9 Responses to “Is this the best we can do for our kids?”

  1. “But until we change the process of what kids do on a day-to-day basis, we will fail to realize the systemic changes we need in our children’s learning environments.” The last three days I have observed teachers in k-5! You are right we have to change what kids do on a daily basis. Student engagement is very low! Teachers continue to do the most work!

  2. I agree with your article one hundred percent and think that schools need to change the way they teach. After reading this I immediately thought of the article “Boredom In Boys” which says that the use of electronic devices make people become board easier and thus have trouble doing some of the mundane work given to them at school and work. I can say like many of fellow students that we get VERY board in some of our classes and only participate to get a good grade, not to learn the subject. Currently schools just prepare students for tests so someone can forget about the that needs to change! Schools need to find a way associate real world problems into learning and make sure the student actually has a grasp on the concept. If schools can find out alternative ways to teach students on a day to day basis the students will become much more successful in real world situations. Real problems in the real world that need answering require active learners and problem solvers, to bad schools are having trouble teaching those skills to students. When schools can entertain their students and teach them to be active learners and problem solvers more jobs will be created and the more our society will prosper.

  3. PLN 20
    Dear Mr. Durflinger,
    Your piece “Is this the best we can do for our kids” really interested me because I am seeing a recurring theme in many of the articles I have read lately. This theme being, our education system needs a reform. At this point in time our education is the same for every student which is unfair to each and every student. All students learn differently there for their curriculum should be different. Also tests are not very good ways to measure a student’s growth but many administrators think it is. Whenever I have a big test I get stressed out and overwhelmed and end up not doing as well as I should have. I know many students that are extremely smart but don’t show it on their test scores. I believe that too really gage student’s learning you need to find out how they learn the best. There are a many ways kids learn and a couple of those would be auditory, physically, or imagery. The education system today is only teaching one way so kids that have that have trouble learning that way struggle in school. In “Is this the best we can do for our kids” you bring up many great points that I believe in because I truly believe that our education system is in the need for a reform.

  4. “But until we change the process of what kids do on a day-to-day basis, we will fail to realize the systemic changes we need in our children’s learning environments. We must start teaching in a way that helps kids see relevance and helps them actually care about what they’re supposed to learn so that they don’t just memorize it short-term and then forget it as soon as possible.”

    “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core. We do not want complacent pupils, but eager ones. We seek to sow life in the child rather than theories, to help him in his growth, mental and emotional as well as physical, and for that we must offer grand and lofty ideas to the human mind.” – Maria Montessori

    What Montessori teachers do, day to day, the way our classrooms are structured, the way our days are organized… these are the changes that re being called for. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, why not look at this very effective, proven philosophy and practice?

  5. I agree, Andy. Schools that are based on Montessori, Waldorf, problem- or challenge- or inquiry-based, and similar philosophies are excellent places to look for proven frameworks and practices.

  6. I have been knee deep in developing MYP unit planners and the umpteen assessment rubrics that are required to go with them for the last few weeks. Between that and the common assessments we are required to do both for our students and for our teachers and the endless i dotting and t crossing something important gets lost. What gets lost, and I feel it more keenly this year than I have ever felt it before, is the connection teachers have with their students and the relationships they develop. The more I walk between the two worlds of teacher and administrator the more convinced I am that we need to de-complicate the whole structure of schooling in order to place emphasis on the relationships students and teachers create with each other. Otherwise we amp up the Prussian-inspired purpose of schooling which is to serve as a social sorting ground and not really a place for learning. I am getting tired of this game we call school. If we are going to continue to play it I at least wish we could have a new operating system.

  7. The foundation of Iowa’s supposed education crisis–according to Branstad–is our NAEP scores.

    I think it’s clear that Iowa ed reform efforts are about tests and not what’s best for our students.

  8. As usual, I wholeheartedly agree with both Deron and Scott here. If we can tap into the true motivation of a child’s natural love of learning, achievement will take care of itself. And conversely, if we fail to tap into that natural motivation, no amount of testing, mandates, or other “reforms” will amount to a hill of beans. We cannot send our time trying to convince kids that what seems irrelevant, boring, and monotonous to them is really exciting and meaningful. Instead we need to make it exciting and meaningful. Natural curiosity is far too often absent from American public education.

  9. Hi Scott, et al.

    Allow me to put on my cynic’s hat. What we have here is a failure to clearly state the purpose(s) of schooling. Without that, all further discussion of what works, or doesn’t, is muddy.

    For example: it may well be that a major, or perhaps the major purpose of schooling, is to prepare students for the boredom they will encounter in the workplace. If this is true, then sitting in desks in rows listening to lectures and filling in bubble sheets might be an absolutely brilliant strategy.

    Your idea of the purpose of schooling, or mine, may not be particularly relevant to the social, economic, and political needs of the State that is paying the bills.

    To put it another way: the interests of the individual learner may not coincide with the interests of the institutions and governments who are running the schools.

    Eric

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