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Drury class focuses on educational changes

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Drury University students who recently made a public presentation at the Southwest Area Career Center in Monett on the public education system and possible changes needed to improve it are pictured above. Students included Connie Morris, Kayla Arndt, Patricia Sigman, Contessa Brundridge and Brady Hayward. The students' teacher for the communications therory class was Tenoha Templeton.
Fundamental changes in public education were proposed by a Drury University communications theory class in a presentation made last month at the Southwest Area Career Center in Monett.

Professor Tenoha Templeton said interest had been shown in the class's work by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Governor Jay Nixon, both of whom had invitations to attend last week's presentation. Educators from a number of programs attended the presentation.

Students in Templeton's class introduced their approach to education as framed by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann's "Spiral of Silence" theory. Noelle-Neumann contends that general public opinion influences the course of discussion, pressuring people to conceal their views if they differ from the majority.

In education, the Spiral of Silence has contributed to the rise of the current majority opinion favoring standardized testing, blaming teachers for poor performance and a sense of entitlement. The students argued that those with different points of view have been marginalized. Without a different approach, the shortcomings of the current strategy will accelerate, worsening the United States' position in the world.

Shortcomings of testing

Standardized testing represents a large part of the prevailing approach and its problems. The students reviewed how testing gained strategic significance out of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a way to close achievement gaps and fight poverty. Testing was mandated for schools to "prove" academic achievement to receive federal funding.

The strategy compounded with the 1983 "A Nation at Risk" report, the 1994 Educate America Act and the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. Despite increased testing, the U.S. scores in reading, math and science have continued to fall and are now below the average established by the Organization for Economic Development.

The prevailing approach to testing fails to provide an accurate measurement of knowledge, the students argued. The "one test, one day" method does not recognize the possibility of a test taker having an off day. Critical thinking has been largely ignored. School districts are in turn punished rather than helped if students score poorly.

The Drury class proposed a variety of alternatives to the current approach to testing. These included allowing teachers to have more creative control in classrooms, broadening curriculum from basic skills to more critical thinking, creating a more equal burden of accountability and lowering the amount of time children spend taking tests.

Another fault cited with testing is the underlying assumption that a child's future is determined by what tests say about the child. At the same time, the class cited a presumption that children coming from families with high enough income and social status will not be held to the test scores, establishing a double standard.

Public vs. private schools

Despite the major emphasis on testing, performance in public schools has continued to lag behind private schools. The class suggested that additional money and greater attention given to fewer students in private schools may not be the pivotal reasons for such disparity.

In private schools, students are taught values and to have a sense of accomplishment. Teachers also act as parents, showing the difference between right and wrong without affecting the child's self-confidence.

Public schools offer other advantages, such as exposing children to a more diverse population and a wider range of classes.

The class suggested incorporating the advantages of private schools into the public school model. One simple innovation would be to offer recess, even up through middle school, to give students a break from their routine that allows a greater focus upon their return to work.

School discipline

The class also looked at school discipline by conducting interviews with administrators in the Monett, Pierce City, Verona and Mt. Vernon school districts. They found corporal punishment is used very little today and has not been missed.

The need remains to impress upon children that there are consequences for bad behavior. Detention, Saturday school and in-school suspension have grown in popularity. New approaches may further improve provide even better ways to empower teachers and students, the class stated.

Resetting expectations

The class sounded a warning against the growing sense of entitlement from parents. Entitlement has become a growing part of the culture. Parents think that they can do homework for the children, pressure teachers and shield children from disappointment and struggles.

Students learn by example, experience and empathy rather than escaping from the stresses that "tough love" would impose. The class proposed that entitlement is an illness and can only be broken by holding a child accountable and limiting choices as a consequence.

"Parents and teachers should stop merely providing a service and become role models and mentors," the class concluded.

For comprehensive solutions, the class made the following proposals:

* End tracking and labeling practices.

* Increase parental involvement through creative projects like Parent University.

* Change school curriculum to be student focused and to give teachers more freedom.

* Enable all students to participate in school-sponsored activities.

* Integrate aspects of the private school systems into the public school system.

* Eliminate No Child Let Behind and change standardized testing to offer quality over quantity in testing.

* Emphasize early childhood education.

* Hold everyone accountable, children included.

* Provide consequences that matter.

The Spiral of Silence theory states individuals will only speak out when they have nothing to lose.

"We have nothing to lose by speaking out," the class concluded. "Our education system is no longer a world leader and continues to decline. By speaking out, we can change the Spiral of Silence and improve education."

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