years ago i attended a really informative teacher’s training day. the speaker began with a rather unexpected premise.
most people are familiar with a bell curve. that is where some people are at the bottom, some people are average, and the last group is on top. regardless of the actual percentages, if you graph these folks, the shape of your line would look like a bell (thus, the “bell curve”).
i hope that makes sense, since i have no idea how to draw things on the blog. if not, feel free to google for a better explanation.
anyhow, as educators, we spend a lot of time and resources trying to help the lowest performers. there are tutors and remedial classes and group learning where they are paired with stronger students and on and on. sometimes their grades are adjusted, sometimes they are padded with “class participation” grades, and sometimes they are just graded higher than they earned out of pure sympathy for them.
officially, we try to “teach to the middle”. what that actually means is that we strive for mediocrity. we try so hard to not overwhelm the most challenged kids that we teach just slightly above where they are, and then we work really really hard to give them extra educational scaffolding.
by doing this, we stress the “lowest” kids, and we bore the middle kids.
but the worst travesty. and the one that is perhaps the least discussed, is that we completely lost the top kids.
sometimes we give them busy work. but they always know it’s busy work.
sometimes we pair them with weaker kids so they can “help” them. but they know they are being used as unpaid teaching assistants/being kept busy/or we just don’t care about their learning at all.
once in a while a really inspired/inspiring teacher comes along and stimulates their brains.
but not too often.
the drop out rate of high IQ kids is higher than the lowest IQ kids.
the drug/alcohol abuse rate is higher for the kids who test with the highest potential.
the kids with the most potential (and of course i am only talking about academic potential here- obviously many kids are artistic or creative or kind or patient or whatever. i am not debating the existence of multiple intelligences, nor am i advocating for the superiority of one kind over another.)- are most often the ones who get the losing end of the stick in american education.
this entire presentation was an eye-opener to the entire crowd.
and it fit with all of our real life experience.
so, what can be done about it?
that, my dear folks, is the zillion dollar question.
and the most honest answer is that i have absolutely no idea.
i know that the teachers’ lobbies are way too powerful.
i know that the system of hiring and firing is messed up, and merit pay is problematic, and student test results are a crummy way to measure teacher competence.
i know that lots of students are getting left behind and that money does not help schools to succeed and that across the board our students are doing worse than those in other countries.
i know that political correctness is usurping common sense and that touchy feely education seems to trump brass tacks.
i know that quality needs to matter more than quantity as far as education goes.
and we can’t recreate the homes kids come from.
we can’t cancel out what happens outside of school hours.
we can’t properly incentivize or collectivize or revolutionize using any of the frameworks we now have.
given that i have the smartest coolest bestest readers in the universe, i’d love to hear your thoughts about education today.