The school season has started and many parents need to find out if their child knows the basics. The trend across America in most public schools is to push children, as young as elementary school, into studying advanced concepts in math, reading and writing before they know the basics. Parents need to know if their child has mastered addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. That is, can they perform these operations without a calculator?
Many parents will be shocked to discover that their child can't do these basic operations. Nonetheless, schools are asking these same kids to do rounding numbers, estimating, geometry, algebra and other operations. Having been a math tutor, the number one problem that I saw with students who were having trouble with math was that they did not know their times tables and were not comfortable with basic operations. Most also had a very weak understanding of decimals, fractions and percents. Once I fixed those weaknesses, my students were able to excel in math. Unfortunately, when one looks at many schools across the country they are like a treadmill pushing students to do increasingly more difficult math problems without stopping to insure that those students truly understand the basics first.
The same situation is taking place with regards to reading and writing. Many students have obvious problems with sounding out words and weak vocabularies. Many also have problems with identifying verbs, adverbs, adjectives, sentence fragments, run-on sentences etc. Despite this, these same students are being asked to read and comprehend difficult passages as well as to write coherent paragraphs and essays. While these are noble goals, they are a formula for disaster when we are talking about children who have not mastered the basics. This approach quickly leads to frustration which causes students to dread studying and dread going to school.
Most parents assume that harder is better while not realizing the harm that is being done to their child. The worse thing that can be done to a child is to cause that child to become frustrated. It lowers their self esteem. They start believing that they are dumb. They start to believe the test scores which say that they are a "D" or "F" student. This is a terrible thing to do to a child. The fact is, there is no such thing as a dumb student. I have taken countless failing students and turned them into "A" students. Any good tutor or tutoring service can do the same. All tutors know that the key is to figure out where a student's weaknesses are and just fill in the gaps in what they know. Something that is so simple and obvious is being largely overlooked by most public school systems across the country. This is why American students are so far behind most other countries in reading and math. Foreign students have a solid foundation in the basics. I was speaking to a woman recently who is a banker and her daughter is an executive at a pharmaceutical company. She told me proudly that she was very tough on her daughter. She made her daughter learn her times tables by the second grade. To this day her daughter thanks her for being so firm when it came to the basics. This woman was born in another country.
Sadly there is little that most teachers can do these days, because much of the curriculum is being dictated from the top down. They are being told what to teach, how to teach it and when to teach it. There is little opportunity for teachers to be creative or to focus on the realities of the academic needs of their specific set of students. Those students who really fall behind are recommended to be placed in special education classes. As a result, the number of students in special education is growing, especially in the number of Black and Latino students who are enrolled.
It is really up to the parents to ask questions about the curriculum and to start complaining at their parent's association and school board meetings. Only the parents can apply the necessary pressure to address these problems. If parents don't do something, no one else will.
Statistics About Education In America
Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession … no longer exists’
U.S. Students Still Lag Behind Foreign Peers, Schools Make Little Progress In Improving Achievement
Education Report Card: Flat Reading Scores Are 'Deeply Disappointing'
How Students Are Being Set Up To Fail
Common Core: What's Hidden Behind the Language