We are seeing declining results from changes in educational methods and values and principles. Perhaps it is some of both. Either way, the education ship is sailing in the wrong direction. Testing results send us the message loudly and clearly.
The message from NAEP
Every four year the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in U.S. history, civics, and geography is given. The Department of Education just released the most recent results. The testing was given in 2018 to thousands of American eighth-graders. Grade 8 Students’ NAEP scores did decline in geography and U.S. history. The results in civics are the same as they were in 2014.
Test administration was from January to March 2018. The tests are given to a nationally representative sample of 42,700 eighth-graders from about 780 schools. The news is not very good.
Twenty-four percent of students perform at or above the “proficient” level in civics. Fifteen percent of participants score proficient or above in American history. Twenty-five percent were proficient in geography. At least twenty five percent of American eighth-graders are what NAEP defines as “below basic” in U.S. history, civics, and geography.
Assessing the results
The message here is they have no understanding of historical and civic issues. Our eighth graders cannot point out basic locations on a map. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the recent national report card is “stark and inexcusable.” She blames “antiquated” education methods for low test scores among the nation’s eighth-graders.
Let’s think about her assessment of the NAEP results. Eighth-grade students of earlier periods, by definition, carry the burden of now “antiquated” education methods. It was incumbent on them to learn algebra and geometry. They were responsible for identifying parts of speech, and memorizing poems like “Old Ironsides.”
Based on test results we know they could run circles around today’s eighth-graders. Most likely they would do so with today’s high school graduates, and many college graduates. Perhaps it these we need to revert to these authentically antiquated education methods.
Jeffrey Sikkenga is a professor of political science and executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. Perhaps he suggests part of the solution to our education problem when he observes:
Students need to go back to America’s past and ask it questions, starting with our founding. They need to study great documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address,’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Not just read about them in boring textbooks, but read the documents themselves, for themselves. Have great conversations with those great minds—discover for themselves the story of America in the words of those who lived it.
The school climate is seldom part of the discussion. But it plays a very important role in education. During the 2017-18 school year, there were about 962,300 violent incidents in our public schools. There were another 476,100 non-violent incidents in U.S. public schools nationwide. Seventy-one percent of schools reported having at least one violent incident. Sixty-five percent report having at least one non-violent incident.
Schools with 1,000 or more students had at least one sworn law enforcement officer assigned. About 90% of those law enforcement officers carry firearms.
Decades ago how many police officers, with weapons or without, were patrolling our school buildings? When I was in high school I never saw a police officer on the premises. The only time we saw a police officer in the building was during a sporting event open to the public. Today, police patrol the hallways, all day, every day.
It is usual, not unusual for a school to have security cameras, school police officers, and metal detectors. Students had to walk through the metal detectors to enter the building. In many places, they face searches by police officers. Schools must be on the list of the most persistently dangerous places to be.
Disrespect is a precursor to violence
Aside from violence, there are many instances of outright disrespect for teachers. First- and second-graders telling teachers to “Shut the f**k up” and calling teachers “b*tch.” The attitude of some school administrators may need adjustment. The attitude of some parents may be unhelpful, even counter-productive.
For example, a New Jersey teacher was seriously assaulted by a student. The teacher made the request of her principal to permanently remove the student from the classroom. The response of the principal was to tell the teacher to “put on her big girl panties and deal with it.”
Years ago, there was no tolerance for the behaviors we see today. There was the vice principal’s office. Corporal punishment would be administered for gross infractions. If the kid was unwise enough to tell his parents what happened the likely result was further reinforcement at home.
Today, unfortunately, we’ve replaced practices that work. In their place, we have put practices that may sound good. They may convey the appearance of caring. They come from the best of intentions. But we are witnessing the results. We cannot and should not abandon self-discipline and personal responsibility. When we do so there is no reasonable expectation of better results.
The question isn’t really an educational one. It is one rooted in our values and principles. The issue we need to commit to solving is less instructional technique and more what do we believe in. What will we hold ourselves accountable to?