Educating Kids

I should be re-FramIng this in a way that doesn't treat kids as passive recipients. But I can't think of a sufficiently pithy term... let's crossref Network Of Learning for now.

See Educating Kids In Nyc for some bottoms-up horror bits. Not that Educating Kids In The Suburbs is a picnic.

This is done pretty damn poorly right now, in my opinion. (Just ask Matt Groening.) Even though passing along Basic School Skills doesn't seem like it should be that hard.

Well, I really think there are at least 3 different games

  • succeeding at the standardly-defined standards for the middle-80% of students
  • succeeding at the standardly-defined standards for the top-10% of students
    • I think this is approached the same way as the previous game, just faster and "easier"
  • preparing kids for the future - we're trying to "win the last war", when we should be Raising Reality Hackers - that's the Goal Of Educating Kids

Part of it's a matter of providing Stimulating Learning Projects. The meta-problem, I believe, is the system that makes such projects unlikely. Because they don't fit into the compartmentalized Curriculum model.

See UnSchooling for a radical alternative. Or some Alexander Patterns (and some of my Fractally Generative Pattern Language) for broader context.

Meta-idea: School Choice


I want to improve my Systems Thinking in this area. I want to get at least to a Diagram Of Effects. I'll start by making some statements.

Mar'2009 update: a map of future-forces

Hmm, I'll fill in some Context first, since I find that provides some help in deciding what to include/exclude from analysis.

  • goal of analysis: The idea is to understand the structure of the educational system (in the USA) to help in evaluating possible policy/structure changes based on their potential to improve the performance of the system.

  • some stakeholders

    • students

    • parents of students

    • teachers

    • principals

    • non-teaching employees (janitors, administrators, etc.)

    • employers (who hire ex-students)

    • taxpayers (who pay for Public Schools)

    • education-theory academics and consultants

    • all people ("society") (who have to share space with students and ex-students)

Some people believe it is society's responsibility to educate all children.

Some people believe it is in society's best interest to try to educate most children (to reduce crime and welfare expenses).

It is difficult/impossible to design perfect/objective instruments (Standardized Test) to evaluate students' performance at learning what we want them to learn.

People disagree on the best balance between core items ("the 3 Rs") and other subject areas (social science, arts, personal health management, phys ed, conflict resolution, etc.)

Many young adults who have completed their period of formal education seem to lack necessary functional skills.

  • colleges are increasing their budgets for remedial programs for entering freshmen

  • employers complain about employees who are high school graduates not being able to read procedures, add up numbers, make change, etc.

Education certificates (High School diplomas, College Education degrees) are often seen as prerequisites for financial success (e.g. employment). So students and their parents often focus more on getting the piece of paper than on actually learning anything. (Credentialism)

Some people believe that everyone should get a College Education.

The economic benefit of a College Education seems to be shrinking.

College Tuition has increased faster than inflation for decades.

Many students leave college with a huge debt.

Giving a student a failing grade is sometimes interpreted as a Failure on the part of the teacher. Therefore teachers have an incentive to pass a student who doesn't deserve it.

Failing many students out of an entire grade is often interpreted as a failure on the part of the school. Therefore principals have an incentive to pass students who don't deserve it.

Students who excel in athletics are often given lower standards to meet in academic courses, so they are passed even if they don't deserve it.

Some parents rarely read.

Some parents rarely read to their children.

Some parents rarely check whether their children are keeping up with their HomeWork.

The more a young child is read to, the more likely they are to be interested in learning to read, and the more likely they are to learn to read well.

Standardized Test-s are intended to provide an objective 3rd-party (outside-the-school) evaluation of what students have learned, as a reaction to people not trusting the diploma as an indication of anything.

Companies who provide Standardized Test-s often donate significant sums to money to politicians who support increased use of standardized tests in their region.

Standardized Test-s cost money to buy, score, report and track.

Students whose courses don't cover the material included in a Standardized Test don't do as well in those tests. Therefore teachers are pressures to include any material that will be covered in a standardized in their courses.

To increase their objectivity (and reduce their cost), Standardized Test-s are mostly based on Multiple Choice questions.

Some people question whether Multiple Choice questions are an appropriate instrument for measure a students understanding of a subject.

Schools spend a significant portion of their expenses on items not directly tied to instruction. see NYC report

  • building construction, maintenance and repair. Cleaning.

  • curriculum design and planning; teaching teachers

  • supplies; procurement management

  • administration

It is difficult to reduce indirect expenses in response to reduced revenue.

Private schools are very expensive.

Parochial schools are less expensive than secular Private School-s. This may be true because many employees (e.g. nuns as teachers) perform their role as a form of religious service, and thus are paid less than private schools teachers; there may be other reasons as well.

Some parents value exclusivity and thus are attracted to high prices.

Some parents value separating their children from poorer children.

Roughly 40% of NYC public school students come from a Single Parent Family.

Governments regulate the operation of Private School-s.

Regulations increase cost.

School Voucher programs transfer funds from public school budgets to private schools where students choose to attend.

People disagree as to whether vouchers should transfer only variable/direct costs or some other other/higher amount.

It is difficult/impossible to design perfect/objective instruments to evaluate teachers' performance at educating kids.

Teachers believe that they are often evaluated by principals inappropriately (e.g. on how well they suck up).

Teachers Union-s have worked to minimize the effects of subjective evaluation on (public school) teachers' performance.

Teachers (in public schools) are often assigned to schools and subjects based on seniority rather than ability or training.

Teachers (in public schools) who are considered poor performers are rarely fired.

(Similar statements to the above can be made for other school employees (like janitors) and managers.)

Charter School-s are public schools which often given more power/flexibility to principals.

Students often evaluate their teachers based on how fun and easy they are, rather than how well they help the students learn.

Parents who try to transfer their children out of poorly-performing public schools often discover that there is no excess capacity in highly-performing schools.

Some people fear that letting "good" students "escape" from public schools (via vouchers) will reduce the pressure on public schools to improve (Exit Voice And Loyalty), and will reduce society's willingness to pay for public education systems.

Some people believe a Single Payer approach might make sense.


Jamshid Gharajedaghi --2003/10/21 01:02 GMT
There's an example of a systems diagram for the US education system (fig. 6.4) in the book "Systems Thinking : Managing Chaos and Complexity" by Jamshid Gharajedaghi. It's a bit right-wing for my taste, but the idea is a good one. I'd like to see all your elements diagrammed this way. Do you currently use a systems diagramming tool? -- Phil Jones


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