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The State of U.S. Education (And the Power of Walter Cronkite)

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A new documentary, scheduled to air Monday, will examine how U.S. schools stack up against those of foreign countries, like China and Finland, in subjects like math and science and in meeting goals such as keeping students in school through graduation.

The PBS program is titled "Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century."

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It takes its name from a Walter Cronkite program that aired 50 years ago, shortly after the Soviets shocked us Yanks with the launch of the Sputnik satellite. The producers of the new PBS program say the Cronkite show "is often credited with mobilizing the country and spawning a major investment in science and technology that got the nation to the moon 10 years later."

I wasn't around in 1957, so I have no way of knowing whether that last line is on-point or a grand exaggeration. But then again, we're talking about Walter Cronkite here, the newsman/icon. And who among us doubts the power of television?

Hosted by longtime TV journalist Judy Woodruff, the program will focus in on four schools in Ohio, in the Cincinnati and Columbus areas and the town of Belpre. The program's publicists say it will examine the challenges facing U.S. schools by telling the stories of students, parents, teachers and administrators. Those profiled on the show include Bin Che, an educator from China who teaches Mandarin in rural Ohio; Anne Kuittinen, a Finnish exchange student denied credit from her school in Finland for the work she did while studying in the United States; Cherese Clark, principal of a high-poverty urban school struggling to raise low test scores; and Guadalupe Medina, a student at an experimental science, technology, engineering and math school, who completed her high school requirements in two years.

The question of whether U.S. schools are falling behind those in high-performing foreign nations has lit a fire under public officials over the past few years.The show's executive producer, Ronald Thorpe, said in a press statement that its creators purposely chose to highlight Ohio because it's a presidential battleground state which reveals "both the promise and challenge of educating diverse populations. It also illustrates the fact that our position in relationship to other industrialized nations is not encouraging.”

The show will also feature interviews with education-policy types, such as Checker Finn, Rick Hess, and Michael Rebell, as well as Geoffrey Canada, President of the Harlem Children’s Zone and John Wilson, the National Education Association' executive director, among many others.

"Where We Stand" will hit the air at 10 p.m. east-coast time on Monday, Sept. 15.

For more information on the program, go to www.THIRTEEN.org/pressroom. The producers say you'll be able to watch it after the fact at www.PBS.org

4 Comments

I watched the Monday show on the state of our education systems in the U.S. As a teacher, I am offended that our system is always attacked and the point is always stressed that our teachers aren't doing enough. I have yet to see these news reporters and politicians address the fact that parents are not accountable for any of this. Teachers are held to standards of educating a generation of kids that show no respect, lack work ethics, parents complain about homework and students don't return homework, and these students have NEVER been READ to. Parents aren't doing their jobs!!! Yet I will get merit pay if I can teach everything necessary to increase scores while the parents are 2nd generation drug users and our welfare system PAYS them to keep haveing kids. It is easy to compare our education system and how it lags behind other countries but lets compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Finland does not have a welfare system like the U.S. China does not have to educate ALL their children. Our educational scores include the severely handicapped as well as the poverty-stricken and all those that have no respect for education. Many are occupying classroom space because the law says they have to until they drop out and the parents support that. These aren't the same circumstances that other countries face. Plus, educators often are of the utmost respected people in other coutries. In America, when I tell people I am a teacher proudly, they often ask, "Couldn't you have gotten a job that paid more?" or "Why would you want to be a teacher? It sucks." That was not my thought 17 years ago when I was getting my degree, but now I understand their thinking. I spent $21,000.00 on a degree that paid me $18,000.00 a year before taxes. At some point I would like to see parents held accountable for having children and becoming their first teachers that the students ever see. I would also like to watch some reporting stating the fact that America educates ALL chidren, not just the brightest IQs. When is the last time we ever saw a special education Chinese, Japanese, or Finnish student or one that can't speak the country's predominate language? Just something to think about.

From my perspective as a retired curriculum director and now a High School That Works/Making Middle Grades Work Coach,I firmly believe that we as educators can improve at least the majority of our middle school students(85-90%)to achieve in algebra by eighth grade. In order to do this,we first need to reduce the number of mathemtical concepts that are being taught in grades 6-8 since about twenty percent are actually new conepts. Secondly, we need to teach more in-depth by providing two years of pre-algebra(8th grade text) for all students in grades 6-7.In this approach, all sixth graders would be taught the first half of the pre-algebra course and in the next year, the second half of the pre-algebra course.In the third year, these students would be taught algebra1. This curricular design in Ohio has been successfully implemented in Perry Publis Schools in Lake County for about six years.Students with special needs receive assistance from their intervention teacher and those students who are very successful mathematically complete pre-algebra in sixrh grade, algebra 1 in seventh and geometry in the eighth grade. The obstacles to overcome are those of changing the school culture by focusing on the core values that all students matter and all students can learn more. Another Ohio middle school(Northwestern MS in West Salem) is beginning to initiate a similar approach to teaching algebra to all eighth grade students. This snapshot are examples of what can be done to improve our students achievement in middle school mathematics.

From my perspective as a retired curriculum director and now a High School That Works/Making Middle Grades Work Coach,I firmly believe that we as educators can improve at least the majority of our middle school students(85-90%)to achieve in algebra by eighth grade. In order to do this,we first need to reduce the number of mathemtical concepts that are being taught in grades 6-8 since about twenty percent are actually new conepts. Secondly, we need to teach more in-depth by providing two years of pre-algebra(8th grade text) for all students in grades 6-7.In this approach, all sixth graders would be taught the first half of the pre-algebra course and in the next year, the second half of the pre-algebra course.In the third year, these students would be taught algebra1. This curricular design in Ohio has been successfully implemented in Perry Publis Schools in Lake County for about six years.Students with special needs receive assistance from their intervention teacher and those students who are very successful mathematically complete pre-algebra in sixrh grade, algebra 1 in seventh and geometry in the eighth grade. The obstacles to overcome are those of changing the school culture by focusing on the core values that all students matter and all students can learn more. Another Ohio middle school(Northwestern MS in West Salem) is beginning to initiate a similar approach to teaching algebra to all eighth grade students. This snapshot are examples of what can be done to improve our students achievement in middle school mathematics.

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