"Mr. Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a policy and advocacy group committed to improving the high schools. The following lamentable passage is from his book, “Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation”:
“International comparisons rank the United States a stunningly unimpressive eighteenth for high school graduation rates, a lackluster ranking of fifteenth for high school reading assessments among 15-year-olds in developed countries, and an embarrassing 25th for high school math.”
Those are not the marks of a society with a blissful future. Four years of college is becoming a prerequisite for a middle-class quality of life and we’re having trouble graduating kids from high school.
Mr. Wise believes (as does Bill Gates) that America’s high schools are for the most part obsolete, inherently ill equipped to meet the needs of 21st-century students. The system needs to be remade, reinvented.
“It’s not that our system is getting worse,” he said. “It’s that other countries are coming on harder and faster.”
More than ever, high schools need to be a conveyor belt to college. In 1995, the United States was second in the world (behind New Zealand) in its four-year college graduation rate. “We’ve actually increased the percentage from that time,” said Mr. Wise. “The difference is we’ve gone from being second in the world to 15th because others have come on so strong.”There were several interesting letters to the editor based on this column. One teacher said,
"I am a seasoned high school history teacher who has long wondered why some students from similar backgrounds and incomes success in school and others drop out. I have concluded that it is innate motivation that is the causative factor. We are asking the wrong questions in education today. Rather than focusing on what is wrong with our schools, we need to do research on what motivates children to value education." She goes on, "Many of my students have reached high school without any idea of how to study, how to sit still in a quiet room without electronics blaring, and no realistic picture of the future that awaits them without a college degree."
Another teacher, "Numerous studies and my own experience as a teacher have demonstrated that for our children to be truly successful in high school, they need to have been well-fed, safe, secure and loved for the 14 years before they get to high school."
Again, in the one teacher's letter she says that students don't know how to sit still (I'm thinking she may mean pay attention because I know few teens who can sit still) and be attentive without electronics. It would help if that was expected in middle school. I don't know many elementary teachers who don't have control over their rooms but I have found it gets a lot more lax in middle school and then people wonder why kids can't pay attention in high school.
(And, as an aside, we had an Italian exchange student this past week from a group of 23 visiting Roosevelt. Most of them were boys. I was talking to some of the boys and asked how they liked RHS girls and the answer was "bellissima" or beautiful. But I also asked them if girls at their school dressed like RHS girls and they all shook their heads no. They said many of the things that the American girls wore would not be allowed at their school.)
I am particularly interested in the motivation issue. I've always thought a lot about how some people particularly children are able to rise above difficult circumstances or abuse and move ahead in life. This extends in the other direction as well; how is it that some kids who are well supported by parents still have a lack of motivation despite the support?