Friday, January 04, 2008

Teachers should cover fewer topics with more depth

College freshmen are not ready because K-12 education contains too much rote learning, not enough teaching of concepts.

High school failing to teach right subjects
By Sherry Saavedra
April 10, 2007

What students learn in high school doesn't match with what they need to know as college freshmen, according to a national study released yesterday.

Professors believe high school teachers should cover fewer topics with more depth to prepare students for college. That is one of the findings of the survey by ACT, a nonprofit educational and testing organization.

“A really common complaint from (college) faculty is students not being able to put together a complete sentence properly,” said Erin Goldin, director of the Writing Center, which provides tutoring at Cal State San Marcos. “When students come in here, . . . I try to explain the rules, but they don't seem to have learned the structure of a sentence.”

...In writing, college instructors place more emphasis on the fundamentals – basic grammar, sentence structure and punctuation – than their high school counterparts.

High school teachers valued exposure to advanced math content to a greater degree than college faculty, who placed more emphasis on understanding the fundamental underlying math skills and processes.

[Blogger's note: I think this is one of the most harmful mistakes made by elementary and high school teachers. A long list of math procedures is taught, but the kids don't understand what they are doing. I suspect the teachers don't understand it very well either, so they simply teach the rule by rote. I think elementary and high school teachers should be taking the ACT to make sure that they know what they're doing.]

High school teachers rated knowledge of science content as more important than understanding the science process and inquiry skills. College faculty valued the reverse.

[Blogger's note: same as above.]

Both groups agree on the critical reading skills needed to enter college. However, the survey found a general lack of reading instruction in high school. More attention to reading complex texts is needed, according to the study, not just in English and social studies, but also in math and science.

[Blogger's note: Yes, elementary and high school teachers talk about critical reading skills, but are they actually able to teach them?]

ACT officials say the study suggests the culprit is partly state-adopted academic standards in English, math and other subjects. Often those guidelines are not aligned with what colleges expect students to know as entering freshmen.

Three-quarters of high school instructors believe that teaching their state's standards does prepare students well, but only one-third of college instructors agree, said Cynthia Schmeiser, president and chief operating officer of ACT's education division...

Fifty-three percent of San Diego County's students scored below proficient in language arts on the California Standards Tests, while more than 56 percent of local students lagged in math, according to results released in August.

Many of these students end up in college unprepared to do the work. Nearly one-third of new freshman required remedial help in English at San Diego State University in fall 2006, for example, while half were unprepared in the subject at Cal State San Marcos...

Dan Daris, principal of El Camino High School in Oceanside, said there's some truth to the report's findings.

“I've heard the statement many times that the English standards are a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said.

Consequently, Daris has encouraged teachers to home in on the most essential standards and provide more in-depth instruction, he said...

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