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Iowa’s proficiency standard, not its students, is problem

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 12:07 p.m. CST

Eleven years into No Child Left Behind, requiring schools to stop the practice of considering students defective and educate them up to grade level, Iowa remains stuck on the pathetic  41st national percentile as the student proficiency level (when the 65th national percentile is grade level for this country – and our 95th national percentile is grade level for international standards).  

The Manhattan Institute issued a report in 2004 documenting the fact there are really no defective students; ACT issued its own report in 2008 saying the same thing; so anytime you hear an individual in education attempt to “justify” some group as defective, that individual is an example of the problem rather than the solution. 

U.S. public education has been falling behind the rest of the world since phonics was dropped from the curriculum (around 1960) and the math curriculum began a series of revisions (around 1960) that destroyed it from what the rest of the world continues to use — hence the reason for NCLB to focus on reading and math.

Contrary to the assertion that Iowa had a top education system about 20 years ago, keep in mind that the U.S. public education system was at the bottom of industrialized countries — due to the significant changes made to curriculum and to teacher training programs decades before — and the situation got so bad the Organization for Economic and Community Development (based in Paris) included an assessment of U.S. education in a 1996 report that called it a threat to world security. Being toward the top of a system that bad in the world is not a distinction. 

Upgrading curriculum and materials is expensive, but 11 years into NCLB should see schools farther along with this than they are.  Fortunately, there is a much less expensive solution for students, parents, and schools (if they choose to participate). Education apps and computer programs are available for all disciplines and all grade levels (many of them free or available for a nominal price). 

These are multi-disciplinary and many use gaming as an attraction for students. Once an individual has demonstrated proficiency at one level, the next level opens up — just like games. These can be used for two major purposes in our provably dysfunctional education system.

One way apps and computer programs can be used is directly by the schools to bypass out-dated and dysfunctional materials. The U.S. Dept. of Education web site includes the core Curriculum for each discipline and grade level, desired outcomes (proficiency levels) for each, and a list of suggested activities for achieving these.

Many of these already appear in educational apps and computer programs, but educators can learn how to use these in the classroom to work with students, and it is now possible to design apps to tailor them for specific purposes. This approach is consistent with the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) grant program and its hands-on approach.

A second way apps and computer programs can be used is in a manner similar to what professional tutorial services and all of the countries out-educating us do: have students experiencing some difficulty begin at the beginning of a discipline and work their way up until the problem is located, addressed, and then move on.  Summer can be a great time for students to take advantage of this and have a good time. 

An internet search of education apps, or apps by discipline will find many available, and help better prepare students for higher education or training after high school — and make up for what the schools are failing to do 11 years into NCLB.

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