With the state mandated readjusting of our school calendars, with the goal of "increasing tourism tax revenue to support our schools," it occurred to me to inquire how other schools in our country organized their calendars. They vary greatly. However, there is one thing that unites our schools across the country, and that is, we are failing dismally in comparison with other countries.
I wonder why. We go to school longer and introduce concepts earlier than we ever have before. We spend billions to improve ours schools, but the sum total of knowledge gained keeps slipping. By middle school we are outranked by nearly every Asian country, Belgium, Czech republic, Slovak republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Russian federation, Australia, Netherlands, Denmark, England, and many more. And it gets worse by high school.
Click here to read a great article regarding US performance against students across the globe in math and sciences.
Curriculum seems to be the key. We continually teach to the standardized tests. Rather than completely mastering topics and moving on from there, students review EVERYTHING that could be on the "tests". It's quantity not quality. Teachers instinctively know this. They have so many "objectives" to teach, they just can't spend time to hammer home the important topics. I mean really, does a 3rd grader need to know what "opportunity costs" are? (By the way, I learned this term in my freshman college economics class. I never needed to know it earlier than that, but I certainly already understood the idea of making good choices in using my time, talent, and treasure.)
Textbooks: U.S. textbooks treat topics with a "mile-wide, inch-deep" approach. A typical U.S. eighth-grade math textbook deals with about 35 topics. By comparison, a Japanese or German math textbook for that age would have only five or six topics. French math books use innovative approaches to math ie. Fractions don't lend themselves to computerization. Kids use calculators for long division. They concentrate on how to use math rather than how to do math. Perhaps this isn't what my high school math teacher would say, but this is 2012, and technology is here to stay. We must learn to use it to it's highest potential.
Let's hope there is a common sense approach to raising our competitiveness in this world, particularly in school districts where there is need; for money, quality teachers, and family involvement.
Oh and by the way, they get WAAAAY more vacation time in larger chunks thank we do. Follow this link, to see just how short sighted the state of Alabama has been with our calendar. I'll save that rant for next time