By Dr. Donovan Garletts
Notre Dame Catholic School
Michigan City, Indiana
As educators it is our duty to seek out empirical data to drive the decision-making process. As an academic authoring this piece, the same responsibility is present, but the foundation here is meant to drive thinking, encourage research, and to plant the seed, per se.
It is vital you understand this distinction as a reader before you proceed. Let this serve as a disclaimer – that I neither support nor reject the information contained herein, but rather wish to share as a mini “think tank.”
Over the last several decades, the States have been inundated with Federal Education Reform and corresponding mandates. The power and authority of individual, state-level Departments of Education have been stripped in a sense. Much of the decision-making is done for the states through Federal intervention at an unprecedented level.
Be it assessment, curriculum, programs, or a variety of other instances, the Federal government has tried to unify America’s educational system in a way that has not necessarily worked out. The most recent intervention, the reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) under the new name of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), has supplanted NCLB (No Child Left Behind), but we are yet to see the results because of the nature of its infancy.
That said, we have slowly seen our country fall behind other countries in various assessed subjects, and it has been noted we are no longer producing our own “world-renowned” physicists, scientists, doctors, etc., but rather hiring them from abroad.
All of this leads us to scratch our heads in an attempt to answer the lingering question of “Why?”
Perhaps the most talked about (and controversial) areas of education as of late are curriculum (Common Core State Standards), development of the whole child (Rigorous Homework vs. Family Time), and technology (1-to-1 Technology, Learning Management Systems, etc.).
Below are summaries of informative, yet provocative, articles that I hope will start an extended conversation at the building level. The articles in full are cited below for your viewing pleasure. We must continually evolve, transform, and engage in the teaching and learning process.
The Educational System of Finland
Finland has long been touted as one of the top educational systems in the world. The basic philosophy is to let children be children and learn through play, exploration, and the inquisitive nature of young minds.
No formal school starts until age seven and proceeds until the equivalent of our ninth grade. Upon the successful completion of the nine obligatory years, students and families have the choice to attend traditional secondary for three years (university prep), vocational school, or enter the workforce.
During the formal primary and intermediate educational years, most students do not start school until 9:00 a.m., citing consistent research on pupils and sleep needs, and end before 3:00 p.m. The short school day is intended to allow more preparation time for teachers outside of the normal school day, while intensifying the day for students.
Finnish students rarely receive homework, and neither students nor instructors are subjected to the same high-stakes testing we see in America. Testing certainly still exists, but it does not carry the same power of persuasion as it does here with regard to student achievement, funding, and jobs.
To put simply, Finland goes against the grain when speaking of education with a truly less-as-more attitude.
Dinner or Homework?
If you have Internet access you have likely seen the “New Homework Policy” note that has gone viral.
The idea is becoming an unavoidable conversation between parents and educators, but it is not new. In fact, entire school districts have gone to a no homework policy as early as 2014.
What is driving this relatively innovative education idea?
Could it be a domino effect of high-stakes testing? One that creates instructors so concerned about tests they inundate students with enough daily work to last them a month then parents become so fed up with the amount of homework their children are assigned they search for a “better way?”
Proponents of the no homework philosophy cite “mounds” of research that point to no quantifiable improvement of student achievement between students with or without homework, but I have yet to see it.
It is likely just too subjective to prove.
That said, there is major substance and evidence linked to the importance of social growth and extracurricular educational opportunities. Both of which would be more accessible in a no-homework world.
The idea that technology could potentially be hindering our students is not something most educators are willing to back. Perhaps we have simply been programmed to think otherwise. After all, any and all governmental entities, accrediting agencies, and even textbook companies are pushing technology as the only way to increase student achievement.
Should technology be more a common sense application than a mandated educational structure?
Take the time to Google “Waldorf Schools” and simply read Waldorf’s philosophy on the absence of technology.
You see what I did there? -- Use technology to do research on a school system that (largely) doesn’t believe in technology.
Research completed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (UK) in 2015 examined how technology in schools impacted student achievement on multiple international exams.
In short, students with extended exposure to technology show “no appreciable improvements” in any of the tested subjects. Are schools simply becoming enablers for students addicted to technology they use at home?
I hope this short piece will not only offer some thought as you continuously work to improve your schools, but will serve as a catalyst to start an ongoing conversation.
Please share your thoughts with me using Twitter (@CoachGarletts). I cannot wait to hear from you all, and if you are laughing at my request technology-infused communication, irony happens to be one of my favorite things!
Coughlan, S. (2015, September 15). Computers do not improve pupil results says OECD. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34174796
Doyle, W. (2016, August 30). A world education leader is fleeing Common Core and other American Ideas, we should pay attention. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/08/30/education-reform-common-core-finland-us-schools-column/89511246/
Habib, N. (2016, September 6). No-homework policies attracting attention. Retrieved from http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/education/no-homework-policies-attracting-attention/article_d30510ef-bf30-567e-88d6-f844f6496e90.html
Kardaras, N. (2016, August 27th). It’s digital heroin: how screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/
Kelly, J. (2015, April 15). 11 ways Finland’s education system shows us that less is more. Retrieved from https://fillingmymap.com/2015/04/15/11-ways-finlands-education-system-shows-us-that-less-is-more/
Koerber, B. (2016, August 22). Teacher absolutely nails it with new homework policy. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2016/08/22/no-more-homework-/#4EecUR.ar5qY
Dr. Donovan Garletts is passionate about myriad issues that confront the “forefront” of K-12 education and can be reached for conversation and commentary at his Twitter account above. Please reach-out and let him know your thoughts regarding his article, and of course, the articles he references.