How Do You Think American Education Could Be Improved?

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How Do You Think American Education Could Be Improved?

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In “Teachers and Other Readers Sound Off on International Exam Results,” Derrick Bryson Taylor writes about the recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment:

The test, which is given every three years, measures a 15-year-old student’s reading, mathematics and science literacy, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Results showed that, over all, Americans who took the test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading.

However, American students scored below the middle of the pack in math, and nearly one-fifth of the students who took the test scored so low it seemed some had not mastered the reading skills of someone far younger. American students’ results in reading and math have also been stagnant since 2000, and the achievement gap in reading between high- and low-performing students is widening.

What is your reaction to these results? Would you have predicted that American students would score lower in math and reading than students in other countries, such as Poland, Ireland and Singapore? Do these scores raise any questions for you? Do you have any thoughts about why students in the United States might have scored this way? Do you have suggestions for how American education could be improved?

The Times asked readers to weigh in on American students’ PISA test scores. Here is a sampling of reader comments, which have been edited and condensed:

Too much technology?

Julie Boesky, a former teacher who now works as a literacy specialist in New York, said that technology had negatively affected children’s vocabulary development, even in privileged socioeconomic circles. Instead of observing or engaging with adults in conversation, toddlers and babies are often staring at moving pictures on a tablet or mobile devices, she said.

The vocabulary deficit widens in school as reading becomes more challenging. It also leads to poor performances on standardized testing, during which students are expected to answer complex questions with an elevated vocabulary. More test preparation isn’t the answer, Ms. Boesky said on Tuesday. “It’s actually understanding the language that so often is a barrier,” she said.

A former teacher, Elizabeth, from Portland, Maine, said she noticed a change in students around the year 2000. Students were impatient to get answers, had a shorter attention span and were resistant to working through problems, she said.

“My conclusion: technology is not always our friend,” she wrote. “The newly arrived laptops in our schools were as much a distraction from learning as a tool for learning.”

Raise teacher pay

Mary, from Baltimore, said that if teachers were better paid, “we would raise and draw more and better qualified people into teaching.” Professional athletes and actors earn more money and respect than teachers and other public servants, she added.

That sentiment was shared by Andy M., from Nashville, who said that teachers’ salaries should be competitive with other high-status professions, and that higher pay would attract a more “qualified applicant pool” from top-tier universities.

Build stronger safety nets

Jules Cooper, a retired teacher who lives in Kings Valley, Ore., said the country should do more to support families’ overall well-being. If parents have access to affordable health care and day care, for example, they would be less stressed and better able to focus on their child’s development.

“Students’ basic needs have to be met before they can achieve in school,” she said.

Sam, from Cleveland, said that not enough attention was focused on students’ home environment. “If the value of education is not stressed in the home, throwing money at the problem will not help,” he said.

At least one other person said the foundation for improving test scores could be found in quality preschools, many years before a student had to take the PISA. “If a child starts first grade from a position of disadvantage, it’s very hard to catch up,” Dot, from Miami, wrote.

Some readers focused on the uneven funding of schools as the root of the issue, while others believe that standardized testing is the problem:

Standardized testing is doing a disservice to students, said Lea Wolf, an entrepreneur who is active in the San Diego school system, where her daughter is a student. Instead of inspiring a love for learning or developing critical thinking skills, multiple-choice tests force students to memorize vast amounts of information, she said.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Do you agree with any of the opinions in the article about why American students’ test scores haven’t been improving? Which ones, and why?

  • Are you ever frustrated about what you are expected to learn in school? What about how you are taught and the expectations your teachers and school have of you? Are there resources that you wish you had in school that you think would allow you to learn more effectively?

  • Which of the proposed solutions in the article do you think would help you to learn better? What do you think about standardized testing, technology in the classroom and parent support? Do you think these things can help students to do well in school? Why or why not? Do you have any other ideas about what would improve education in America?

  • Think of a class, either current or from the past, in which you felt you were supported to do your best. What about that class made learning easy or accessible for you? Were there textbooks, interactive lessons, videos, field trips or even a particular teaching style that helped you to learn?

  • Have you ever struggled in a class or subject? What made that class difficult? Did you have access to any resources that helped you to do better? Are there forms of support that you wish you had?


Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.