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How Can We Fix Academically Failing Schools

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Submitted By wilkent7
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In 2000, President George Bush signed into law the no child left behind act. This act was supposed to help get children caught up to grade level math, reading, and science test scores. After 12 years about 82 percent of all the nations’ schools are considered to be failing academically (Dillon).What is a failing school? A failing school is a school where the majority of its students failed to do well on standardized tests that were provided during the school year. The problem is that these schools are found all over the United States. What can be done? How can we fix these failing schools? Who is to blame? Most people would blame the teacher first and foremost, but I disagree. In this paper I will discuss what we can do to fix schools that are failing academically. I will argue that adding early childhood education classes, changing curriculum, and modifying standardized tests are all effective steps in correcting the problems that failing schools continually face. I will support my argument by using the views of authors such as Alfie Kohn and his ideas of making the curriculum more entertaining to make learning easier, Fred Lunenburg’s ideas that preschool is a critical point to achieve success later on in school, Sam Dillon’s views about how the No child left behind act has hurt more public schools than helped them, and other researchers as well.
One step I feel that could help with fixing schools that are failing academically is by adding free early childhood education to public schools across the United States. Early child hood education could play a key role, because it gives parents and students an opportunity to start learning their basic skills at an early age in their lives. In New Zealand they have been offering early childhood classes since 1889, because many of the children were running around the streets while their parents were at away trying to make money (McLachlan 36). Later in 1935, the New Zealand government made it official and added secondary schools to their education system (McLachlan 36). It was a necessity because there was such a demand for these classes and with increased funding for teachers that met specific qualifications to only teach early childhood classes the New Zealand government expects their students to do well.
Just as McLachlan displays how New Zealand jumped ahead of the learning curve by offering early childhood classes, Fred Lunenburg also suggests that “preschool experiences are designed to provide cognitive and social enrichment during early childhood development” (Lunenburg 519). Lunenburg continues on to say that the goals of these experiences is to make the transition to school easier and after two years of preschool the child’s readiness, competence, and scholastic achievements will be retained much better (Lunenburg 519). McLachlan writes in a statement where she explains that with little formal evaluation on outcome of the New Zealand early childhood education there was evidence that students are able to make the transition to school and be able to do well academically (McLachlan 40). She like Lunenburg feel that by giving children the opportunity to experience and attend preschool they would have a better chance of excelling in school when they advance to elementary school. Lunenburg is correct about preschool experiences leading to readiness, competence, and scholastic achievement because these students will be ahead of their many classmates. These children will have already known their colors, alphabet, counting numbers, and cognitive motor skills before any other students that have not attended any preschool. This why we need these kids in school earlier so they can be productive.
Here still lies the problem. Why are there not enough early childhood classes and when there are why are they so expensive? People need to take a stand and start asking for these classes or if you have these classes ask for them to be full day classes. We need to take responsibility for our children and their futures. There is plenty of evidence that early childhood classes produce students that are more prepared to excel later on in school, but how do they do it? Just look back at New Zealand and the curriculum they have is based on four aspects, goals or objectives, content, procedure, and assessment on how the children are progressing (McLachlan 36). Each of the schools is inspected on a 3 year basis to make sure the children are progressing and for the parents to be able to see how the schools are doing. At the turn of the millennium New Zealand’s early childhood program had increased to huge numbers. There were 4890 schools with about 180,000 students, each were up over ten percent since the year 2005 (McLachlan 36).
From what I see New Zealand has one of the oldest and best early childhood programs because, it is constantly reformed if it is not working, the government funds the highest performing schools, and the government is always looking for better teachers for the schools. Here in Chicago we already have it rough because many people think our scores are poor. The elementary and high- schools are getting an extra hour of class, gaining an extra 10 days of school, and some schools have gone year round to try to help with the test scores problem. My nephew attends Portage Park School which has preschool and kindergarten classes. They are great, but they are only half day classes. The students are missing out on loads of learning. This is a reason plenty of students around the world are beating us in mathematics, literature, or even science. What we need from these schools are students, full day classes, a structured curriculum, and funds to help get the best early childhood teachers possible. It all comes down to the people and making it known to the government or school boards that this is important to us by saying to them “hey lets add these early childhood programs to give our kids a head start in elementary school”.
Another step I think that could help is by revising or making school curriculums more interesting for learning. I think sometimes that change is good and it helps people that need a fresh start. Many schools curriculum is focused on all the students. Not all the students are the same though. There are gifted, normal, and below average students. Another option is to revise the school’s curriculum. I recently read an article by Sharon M. peck about an urban school named Quest, in New York that went from some of the worst scores in the district to some of the best scores in the district by using an assessment-based program. The program took four years to fully complete its curriculum overhaul. This program is used to see where and what the students are struggling in and provides instructions on how to help those students. The program went from a text book based instruction to an assessment based curriculum where it focuses on the students. With this assessment based program teachers were able to view the assessments of the students and separate the children into classes based on their needs. This helped the students and peaked parents interests while the teachers created a curriculum that would help them pass the standardized tests.
David Loertscher wrote Bridging the Excellence Gap an article that helps with the beliefs that gifted students are unchallenged in normal classes (Loertscher 50). He states in his article that as of the year 2000, below average to normal students have made solid progress on standardized tests, while gifted students have made modest to low improvements on the standardized tests (Loertscher 50). He feels that by the gifted being unchallenged they are not doing as well on the standardized tests as they should. I agree with him and think that these gifted students should be put into separate classes so they can be challenged. If you think about it, if the gifted kids that usually get good grades start to slack off their grades drop and so do their scores. Also, by moving these gifted students a separate classroom teachers are able to use different curriculums than they would with the normal students giving them special attention that they need. Changing curriculums as classrooms with gifted students could help the normal students as well. This is why I feel that assessment based programs are needed to help everyone excel.
Continuing with Sharon Pecks article: Not on the Same Page but Working Together: Lessons From an Award Winning Urban Elementary School she talks about how “integrated programs consistently outperform students in traditional classes on standardized tests, statewide programs, and program developed assessment” (Peck 397). She describes how teachers create these map plans instead of lesson plans and how they guide the teachers throughout the year to help with staying correlated to state and standardized tests (Peck 398). She feels this way because these students especially at Quest are exposed to so many different types of resources and media. They are exposed to podcasts, expository texts, and children’s literature followed by so many more texts. Students also get to do fieldwork to explore their community to promote student learning for science and history classes. I think this is a very successful strategy for fixing a failing school. They made learning more fun and they have incorporated so many new resources for the students, that they were bound to get better at tests. This school showed that you can achieve good test scores while learning in an unorthodox way.
My final idea is finding not finding new ways to improve curriculum, but to make the curriculum more interesting. Alfie Kohn the Author of The Value of Negative Learning brings up a good point. Student curriculum does not have to be boring and so negative. There are different ways to teach and promote ideas without having to be boring. Strictly teaching the students to the tests is boring and it is also stinks because students lose their creativity with this negative structure. Many students get anxiety before they test and worry if they will pass. Kohn considers this “Negative Learning” (Kohn 110). So Alfie Kohn questions, why does school have to be boring and negative? He thinks this is where children get the point and start to realize that this isn’t the right way to be taught. Kohn feels that students will retain more if you teach in a less negative manner and more fun manner. This method has already seemed to work out at Quest elementary school where Sharon Peck has noticed the students are “ the highest achieving in the district in all areas, and the students are proud of their learning” (Peck 394). Students achieved rates of lower than 50% percent in literacy before the school changed its curriculum and began its assessment based structure (Peck 395).
When class is a little more fun and entertaining students tend to learn better and do not necessarily know they are remembering the most important facts of which they’ll need for their tests. I know in my experiences when I have fun in class, and I’m not talking about being goofy and talking to other classmates, I mean fun in the way the information is presented; I tend to remember the material much better. I think this will help the younger kids also, younger children tend to learn at a faster rate than adults and I believe that if they enjoy what is being presented to them they will learn the material and never even realize it. Here the curriculum is not even the biggest problem, but it is how the material is being presented. The goal is to keep the children interested or they will be lost just as their test scores will be bad.
With No Child Left Behind setting unrealistic goals, eliminating or changing the standardized tests is the last logical step to fixing failing schools. According to Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill the act was a good idea, but it was set up to fail with its unrealistic timetable and leading teachers to teach and prepare directly for the test (Guisbond and Neill 12). They feel that this practice leads to poor teaching and poor student performance especially with minority students in urban areas, because the teachers are solely focused on teaching strictly to the test. Another problem is that many of these urban schools do not have the resources such as newer text books or computers. This is why they feel that these tests are “nothing more than snap shots, that when used to make important decisions they can be misleading or damaging” (Guisbond and Neill 13). They basically questioned how all these problems can come from something that was supposed to help tremendously in the short term.
Why take away money from schools that already need the money? Richard Elmore shares the same ideas as Lisa Guisbond and Monty Neill with “the adequate yearly progress requirement, is a completely arbitrary mathematical function grounded in no defensible knowledge or theory of school improvement, could and probably will result in penalizing and closing schools that are actually experts in school improvement” (Elmore 6-10). Basically Elmore is stating that the adequate yearly progress requirement has no real idea on improving schools that it will cause some schools to either close or be penalized for no reason. I think this combined with the twelve year timeline for all students to be caught up to grade level is the reason these schools will continue to fail. True learning is not about the test; it is about learning multiple subjects and learning from our past to take on the future. Students start to feel that they are not learning anything new because they are pushed towards knowing certain material for the test. In the United States these tests are scored by machines that have no idea who the child is and there are always problems with the scores. What if a child marked an answer to a question then went back and realized that it was incorrect and changed it. There were still some pencil markings in the wrong circle because it wasn’t erased well. These machines give no chances for human error. This is why I feel that teachers should give their own exams and base success off of the student by what they see and evaluate.
How about let the teachers create the tests for their own students? Who knows their students better than the teacher? According to Ian Winchester, teachers in Sweden are able to create their own tests to evaluate their students (Winchester 105). So there are still tests but it is for evaluation purposes only. The schools are not punished for bad scores and students do not receive their scores at the end of the year. This helps the teachers work harder with the students who struggled and now the teacher can fix the problem before the year is out. Maybe if we took this idea from the Swedish there wouldn’t be such a commotion about failing students. Teachers are the key here. They know the students the best. They are able to tell if the student was feeling anxiety or know if the student was sick during the exams unlike the standardized tests here in the United States. There are the children who face test anxiety. I myself have faced this but it is difficult. I used to do horrible on tests because you feel you are not prepared when you are and you start to forget the material. Across the country there possibly could be hundreds of thousands of students that have the anxiety, which is only adding to lower test scores. There are many different issues that can be blamed for poor test scores but, why not let teachers create their own standardized test on the information that they thought was suppose to be important during the year? If we can’t remove standardized tests what can we do?
My final opinion is that maybe the states adjust the test to better evaluate the students. Here in Illinois we had the state test called IGAP which was replaced by the newer ISAT in 2000. Teresa Mask explains how the test has been changed to better evaluate students because the old IGAP tests were judged on a broader range and student scores could be off by 18 Points (Mask). Now the test has more standards which could be better because of the way the test is written. Mask explains that the new ISAT is better because the teachers don’t have to teach to the test anymore (Mask). If we are not able to get rid of standardized testing then I would find this test acceptable. The questions are written by the Illinois board and not by test writers, which made the goals of the exam more specific. Also the test for math, reading, and writing are given to 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades, while the 4th and 7th graders get science and social studies. I think that by being more specific it will help the teachers in their lesson plans. With a specific direction teachers are able to give more information that the students will learn and be more prepared for the test. Maybe with this new ISAT, Illinois schools will catch up and become one of the better school systems and not have to face any No Child Left Behind penalties or closings.
In conclusion, education is always evolving and educators must continue to be aware of that. I have showed that by adding early childhood development classes to public schools, changing curriculum, and modifying standardized testing are effective ways of changing poor performing schools. By adding early childhood development classes it gives students the opportunity to get a head start in school and learn the basics while helping them prepared for the big tests to come. Changing the curriculum will allow the children to become more creative and responsive while still learning and being prepared for their standardized tests. Finally, modifying standardized testing helps everyone by making the test easier for students and teachers to prepare for. All these ideas can help these schools so they don’t have to close because of poor performance and an unrealistic goal of getting every student caught up to grade level scores. Overall, these steps can be useful in reforming schools and producing successful students for years to come. There will always be fresh ideas on how to evaluate and adapt to helping children succeed in the future.

Works Cited
DILLON, SAM. "Hard Times Hitting Students And Schools in Double Blow." New York Times Sept. 2008: 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Elmore, Richard F. "A Plea For Strong Practice." Educational Leadership 61.3 (2003): 6-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Apr. 2012
Guisbond, Lisa, and Monty Neill. "Failing our Children: No Child Left Behind Undermines Quality and Equity in Education."The Clearing House 78.1 (2004): 12-6. Ethnic NewsWatch; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Kohn, Alfie. Feel-bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling.
Boston: Beacon, 2011. Print.
Loertscher, David. "Bridging the Excellence Gap." Teacher Librarian 37.4 (2010): 50,51,92. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Lunenburg, Fred C. "Early Childhood Education Programs Can Make A Difference In Academic, Economic, And Social Arenas." Education 120.3 (2000): 519. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Mask, Teresa Daily Herald,Staff Writer. "Changing the Grade New ISAT Exams Breaking the Way Schools Look at Standardized Tests." Daily Herald: 1. Chicago Tribune; Illinois Newsstand. Nov 24 1999. Web. 13 Apr. 2012 .
McLachlan, Claire. "An Analysis Of New Zealand's Changing History, Policies And Approaches To Early Childhood Education." Australasian Journal Of Early Childhood 36.3 (2011): 36-44. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Peck, Sharon M. "Not On The Same Page But Working Together: Lessons From An Award- Winning Urban Elementary School." Reading Teacher 63.5 (2010): 394-403. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Winchester, Ian. "Standardized Testing and the Classroom." The Journal of Educational Thought 40.2 (2006): 103-6.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

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...values of inclusiveness, to sustain the vision for future generations 2 UCSI Education Sdn. Bhd. (185479-U) Graduate Attributes Getting a university degree is every student‟s ultimate dream because it opens doors to career opportunities anywhere in the world. A university degree is proof of one‟s intellectual capacity to absorb, utilize and apply knowledge at the workplace. However, in this current competitive world, one‟s knowledge and qualifications alone are not enough to land that dream job or to sustain a meritorious career. Success takes more than intelligence. It requires a graduate to possess certain other personal attributes that would make you to stand out among others and be recognized as a person of substance. We, at UCSI University, recognize the absolute importance of developing worthy personal attributes in our students...

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