Sunday, January 30, 2011

Your Child Left Behind

A few weeks ago the Dallas Morning News ran an article in the Points section: "Your Child Left Behind" by Amanda Ripley. This was a reprint of an article from The Atlantic, the December edition. This was a real eye-opener. It showed America states ranked by academic achievement against other countries. The main point of the article is that no one in American public schools is getting a good education. The schools in Massachusetts, the best in America, rank 17th in the world, just ahead of Slovenia. Canada ranks 12th in the world, Finland, the home of Nokia, ranks 4th, while Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively.

On the bright side, the Atlantic provides an interactive school comparison tool that shows Texas schools are better than California schools, but since Texas ranks 48th in the world, that is small consolation.

One reason American schools cannot compete against the rest of the world is because they are deluded by a failed ideology called "discovery learning." The Plano ISD embraces discovery learning and Skip Jenkins, the school board president describes it this way: "We don’t believe the teacher should be a disseminator of facts and information. We believe the teacher should be a facilitator of learning.” (The quote is from the Plano Star Courier).

For years I have contended that the best and brightest in the Plano ISD succeed in spite of the elementary and middle school curriculum, not because of it. Now the Lone Star Crescent has published an article by me, "The Secret to Success in the Suburbs," in its December issue, pages 8 and 11.

Our children must compete against the best and brightest from around the world. The surest way to lose in a competition is to be unaware that you are in a competition. The Lone Star Crescent was kind enough to share "The Secret to Success in the Suburbs" with the community, and now I'll share it with my friends and neighbors so we will all know the secret to success in the suburbs.

Robert Canright

The Secret to Success in the Suburbs
Robert Canright
published in the December 2010 issue of the Lone Star Crescent, pages 8 and 11, all rights reserved by Melanz, LLC.

A good education cannot be taken for granted. It is not enough to buy a home within a school district with a good reputation. You must study the test scores before you buy a home. School district SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) averages are not a good indicator of quality education for several reasons. Some parents will home-school their children or place them in private schools for elementary and middle school, and then place them into the public high schools for AP (Advanced Placement) courses or for the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. This means that high school SAT scores are influenced by private schooling.

A friend of mine in Garland used the combination of a private school and the IB program for his children and his daughter is now at Cornell University. A school district can also steer lower performing children into the ACT test instead of the SAT test and thereby boost the SAT scores. The TAKS test is taken by all the children of Texas and is therefore a better way to evaluate a school district, but even this measure is not the best indication of a quality education. Only close scrutiny by parents can reveal the true quality of education within a school district.

What many concerned parents have discovered is a lack interest by school administrations in teaching academic skills. The schools want to teach critical thinking instead of skills. I have heard one administrator at the Plano ISD use the expressions “drill and kill” and “sage on the stage” to disparage tried and true methods of instruction. I have heard one Plano teacher speak with great excitement about the discovery method she uses in her classroom. The discovery method is where teachers assign problems to students without first instructing them how to solve that type of problem. This technique is also called problem based learning. The discovery method is a proven failure. A book by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, explains with great thoroughness how school administrators all across America have sacrificed our children’s education for the sake of failed ideologies.

When conscientious parents discover that skills are not being taught to their satisfaction, then many pull their children from public elementary schools and turn to home schooling or private schools. Many parents in Plano, however, turn to private tutors to provide their children with the skills they need for a good education. Go to Craigslist for Dallas and search on “math tutor Plano” and you will find over forty math tutors listed. Google “math tutor Plano” and you will find pages of hits. My neighborhood coffee shop seems to always have a math or SAT tutor working with a student. Mathematics is one of the ultimate skill based courses and math tutoring provides a clear advantage over students not receiving math tutoring.

The administration at the Plano ISD clings to their failed ideology of discovery learning even when they are faced with clear evidence that their ideology is a failure. Here is an example: at the Plano ISD Board of Trustees meeting on November 2, 2010, the board received an update on the Math Rocks program. The presenter said the children in this program are significantly ahead of their peers and most of these children receive math instruction outside the Plano schools. These are children who get either private tutoring or classroom tutoring outside of the Plano schools, being tutored with the traditional approach of classroom instruction and homework for drilling the instruction.

The PISD administration can see that traditional instruction and drill puts children significantly ahead of their peers who are taught with the discovery method or with Connected Math. But instead of abandoning failed methods, the PISD creates the Math Rocks program that provides yet more discovery method for these advanced students who have raced ahead with traditional instruction. The Math Rocks program is discovery learning with more challenging problems. The administrators at the Plano ISD are like the Marxists who cling to their failed ideology in spite of clear evidence that their ideology does not work. The existence of the Math Rocks program is positive proof that the philosophy of instruction at the Plano ISD does not work, but the Plano ISD administration stubbornly refuses to admit failure and correct their mistakes.

There are still more secrets for success in the suburbs. There are schools that provide classroom instruction and homework as an alternative to private tutoring. Two such schools are Ed Gurukul and the Hua Hsing Chinese school. Ed Gurukul (Ed stands for education) focuses on mathematics instruction, K though 12. They have classes in the evenings, on Saturday and Sunday. Students typically have one hour of instruction, they do homework during the week, and are tested on their progress. Most of their students receive commended scores on the TAKS test. Ed Gurukul makes the Math Olympiads part of their program. Ed Gurukul also promotes instruction and competition in chess to aid in mathematical thinking. Ed Gurukul has facilities in Plano and Irving.

The Hua Hsing Chinese school meets in Jasper High School in Plano on Sunday afternoon. Ten years ago my daughter and some of her classmates were enrolled in math classes at Hua Hsing. The school met at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson back then. Hua Hsing has been in operation for 25 years. I was very relieved that I could find math tutoring for my daughter. I was in shock at what I perceived to be low skill levels for math in the Plano schools. Plano parents are lucky that the Hua Hsing school now meets in Plano. I spoke with the director at Hua Hsing and learned that parents drive to Plano from Sherman, from Denton, and from Irving for math instruction. There are students from Richardson, Frisco, and Allen, but the majority of their students are from Plano.

Hua Hsing provides math instruction K through 7, algebra, and geometry. They teach math for SAT preparation when there is enough demand. Additionally, Hua Hsing teaches phonics, writing, and SAT preparation for the verbal and writing portions of the test. Hua Hsing students have classroom instruction lasting over one hour. Students receive homework that gets graded, they have a mid-term and a final exam. Some of their students are in the Math Rocks program in Plano ISD. Hua Hsing has science classes and, of course, they have classes on the Chinese language. The Hua Hsing Chinese school has a math contest that is open to the public. The contest has 50 problems and is timed.

For the final push towards high SAT scores, many parents send their children to Karen Dillard’s College Prep. When my daughter graduated from Plano Senior High, the class president joked about all the hours they spent at Karen Dillard’s. A significant number of the National Scholarship winners in the Dallas area are graduates of the Karen Dillard program.

Tutoring is the secret to success in the North Dallas suburbs. For years this has all been known only by word of mouth. Now you know the secret. The beauty of life in America is that you have choices. The difficulty of choices in America is that so many choices require money.