July 18 2012

Complacency is Plaguing Schools

Vicki E. Alger

Former New York City Board of Education Chancellor Joel Klein recently penned a compelling Time editorial lamenting the prevailing—and apparently growing—complacency about American students’ lackluster academic performance. He rightly points to research showing the failure to improve basic skills among students hurts their future earning potential, US GDP, and even national security.

While some so-called experts struggle to justify why average performance scores are good enough, students have a much simpler explanation: they’re bored.

A new report from the Center from American Progress finds that more than one-third of fourth graders say that their math assignments are too easy. More than one-third of high school seniors report that they seldom write about what they read in class. And, close to three out of four eighth grade science students say engineering and technology aren’t being taught. (See here also.). In brief, students are not being challenged in school.

This conclusion squares with previous surveys that found almost nine out of 10 high school students said they would work harder if their schools demanded more, set higher standards, and raised expectations. Ninety percent of students want opportunities to take challenging classes, and four out of five students think passing graduation exams in English and math would improve American high schools.

Other surveys have found that the overwhelming majority of high school dropouts left school because they were failing—to be challenged. Most students said they might not have dropped out if their schools offered better instruction (81 percent) and fostered an academic climate (65 percent). Not being challenged increased student boredom and absenteeism levels. As one respondent put it, “They just let you pass, anything you got.” (See p.6 here.)

Klein’s recommendations make sense: Better quality teachers, quality-time on task, not simply more seat time in school, and better use of technology. Giving students more—and better—education options is another way to help challenge students based on their individual strengths and needs.

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