How U.S. education is changing
The United States is falling behind in education — in November 2012, the country ranked No. 17 out of 40 on a list of developed nations with the best educational systems. As other countries champion academics and Americans find themselves competing globally for jobs, policymakers are calling for educational reform.
“Every level of education should be connecting content to other, more powerful ideas so that students are not learning concepts and skills in isolation,” says Mykel Donnelly, a public middle school teacher and instructor in the education program at the University of Phoenix Southern Colorado Campus.
Here are four ways the U.S. education system is changing:
States have adopted national standards.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative was developed in 2010 by a consortium of educators, administrators and academics with the goal of improving students’ reading and mathematics achievements across subjects, such as applying analytical writing and math skills in social studies classes.
Currently adopted by 45 state departments of education, the standards also aim to help teachers better prepare their students for college and careers. Unlike No Child Left Behind, in which teachers trained students to take multiple-choice standardized tests, this initiative requires students to master and apply skills in real-world situations.
“[This] has been missing from classrooms for several years now,” Donnelly says. “All of my [new] lessons require students to solve a problem and create something tangible as their demonstration of mastery.”
Teachers are accountable for student achievement.
A 2012 study by the University of Chicago found that tying teacher pay raises to test scores can improve student performance. Accordingly, some states, including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., are launching measures that connect teachers’ pay to standardized test results.
“[Colorado] teachers will be experiencing more rigorous teacher evaluations, and their jobs will be linked to [student] test scores within the next year,” Donnelly explains, noting that master teachers like her work with administrators to develop and conduct evaluations.
In Donnelly’s district, for example, teachers compete for bonus pay based on a combination of teacher-evaluation benchmarks and increases in student test scores.
Struggling teachers get help.
Teacher accountability measures like those in Colorado require the most effective teachers to mentor their peers, creating “teacher leaders” like Donnelly. “My job is to coach teachers in all content areas on … strategies that will increase student achievement,” she explains.
Donnelly rates her fellow teachers’ effectiveness with a detailed 21-point rubric, and then uses the results to help her peers develop goals.
High-tech classrooms are hands-on.
Today’s students must adapt to ever-changing technologies if they’re to succeed in a global economy, and a lot of that starts in neighborhood schools. Indeed, many U.S. schools are adapting “flipped classroom” methods — collaborative models that encourage students to explore new technologies during lessons.
Donnelly encourages a hands-on approach to technology. “Even if you don’t know how something works, just start playing with it and trying things,” she says. Her students write their ideas on Smart Board® interactive whiteboards, and some tech-savvy students even teach lessons for her.
“The key to using technology in your classroom,” she says, “is to embed it in your curriculum rather than just as a word processor or Google™ machine.”
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