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Why Is Our Education System Failing?

Tom Friedman, New York Times reporter, wrote an interesting article recently about how American students are among the highest in the world in 4th grade, but by 10th grade they are 25th in the OECD.

He goes into theories about charter schools and money and teachers, but how about this?

1/ American kids don’t want it as much. This is Clayton Christenson’s idea in “Disrupting Class”. They see their parents life, it’s fine for them, and so they cruise assuming it will be handed to them on a silver platter. And chances are they are right about that. South Korean kids do not like what they see when they look at their parents life, they want more and so they work hard.

2/ Kids do not connect reading with fun and so as they get older and more independent they do less and less of it, leading to general academic decline.The fact is American kids have a big educational disadvantage. They are “fat and happy” — this is a pretty difficult motivation to over-turn.

3/Schools have turned into joyless exam factories. They are taught to be professional students, not lifelong learners.

There is not much that can be done about point #1,but parents can influence point #2.  The universal answer to falling 12th grade standards seems to be start on content sooner.


Because schools and parents do this, children do not get their foundations set.  If they are not quite reading comfortably, in a way that can lead to reading enjoyment, too bad — there’s homework to do and tests to pass.  This is not the school system’s fault. Schools reflect the desires of their communities.

Foundations are important. The primary goal of Elementary School should be to secure the foundations so that children can prosper later on. Because this is not being done fewer and fewer students learn to love reading and avoid the tough subjects like science and math.

What can parents do?

The old standard The Read Out Loud Handbook (Jim Trelease) argues the connection between reading and fun is best maintained through reading out loud to your child as late into life as possible, certainly through 5th grade but beyond that also.

Another suggestion is to keep investing in reading skills — if your child does not enjoy reading, try a reading program like the Fast ForWord program, Lindamood Bell or other programs that will help provide reading comfort. Reading comfort will lead to more reading (just as closed captioning helps Finnish kids lead the world in reading!) and hopefully reading enjoyment, a virtuous circle.