Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Problem with Education

Since teaching in Taiwan, I have realized the problem of education: numbers.  Numbers have hijacked education. Students only care about grades and not material. Yes, grades are needed to determine if the student has improved in a given area and should advance to the next level. However, the idea of grades has changed. Grades no longer evaluate improvement. They now acts as the sole purpose of education: what the final grade looks like (and will it look good on college applications or resumes) overpowers everything.

It is not the students who have changed the meaning of grades; it has been schools and teachers. And, no, it is not Mr. Rogers who has influenced students to actively seek extra credit. Rather, it is the constant message education projects. Alarmed by the growing message of getting into a good college or get a good job; students are forced to beg for extra credit in fear of a “B” or a “C.”

In Taiwan, I have adopted a different message to project to my students: the elimination grades can increase education, and ironically, improve grades in the long run. Without seeing grades, the grades will improve! Amazing. This “no grade” policy may seem foreign to many of these students, but it has truly worked –even in an SAT class where numbers dominate, well, everything. The students have now taken two full exams, never seeing their scores. After each exam I go through looking for trends. Which areas –grammar, critical reading, or vocabulary –need improvement? From these trends, lesson plans are created to meet the students’ particular needs. This does take many hours to compute, but it allows for true learning. Education cannot be standardized; needs vary for every student. Changing focus depending on the students mistakes, the students main concern becomes education, not scores. With the elimination of scores –and stress the scores bring –students have increased their scores by an average of 5% --around 100 points --in only two weeks. (I did a complete percent-change analysis for each student to prove to them the "no grade" policy really works. Some students improved an amazing 50% on a particular section!)

To look at this educational digression from a broader perspective, it is, in my opinion, competition that plagues the system. Since when should education be competitive? Education’s main goal, simply, should be the education of children: to prepare them for the world; to help the advancement of our society. Yes, competition abounds in the “real world,” as it should, but education must exist outside of this world –the reason education never falls in the category of “real world.” Students seem to live within the world of competition –from the basketball court to acting stage to musical concert seats. It makes sense this competition should invade classrooms; however, it is the teacher’s responsibility to erase this idea, focusing on education alone. The results are in: the un-focus of grades works! Now it’s time to see a systemic change. 

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