In my last post, I talked about how the documentary Most Likely to Succeed showed that the history of education led us to the practice of students memorizing enormous amounts of material.
Most Likely to Succeed uses AP history as an example of a course that requires memorizing an overwhelming number of facts. The way they described it matches up exactly with what my kids have experienced first hand. They are learning loads of facts, and they aren’t retaining it. I think both the book and the documentary cite an example of a school who gave a repeat AP history test to their students a few months after they finished the course. They went from outstanding performance at the end of the course in the spring, to massive failure rates in the fall.
As hard as they crammed, and after a year of intense study, they didn’t retain the information for even a few months.
That is wasted time.
And in our personal experience, that wasted time is also causing sleep deprivation. (I need to do a post on all I’ve learned about the sleep needs of teens, but for now I’ll just say that there are lots of studies proving the obvious, that not getting enough sleep isn’t healthy.)
I have suggested to our administrators and teachers that maybe they can cover less information, but get a higher retention percentage and perhaps end up with similar grades. For example, instead of covering 100% of the information and getting 70% retention, maybe they can cover 80% and still end up with the students remembering the same original 70% (losing just 12% of what they put in time to learn instead of losing 30%.)
But just like the students – teachers, administrators, and parents can also be afraid of failure. They’re afraid scores might go down.
So I was intrigued to see an example of this in the documentary. In it, they interview a teacher who tried the experiment of testing his former students a few months after they took the final or AP exam. He was alarmed at his dismal retesting rate, so he was trying to change the way he taught. This meant he wasn’t covering the same breadth of the curriculum.
But the kids weren’t happy. They were scared they weren’t going to ace the tests they needed to. And acing the test the first time was all that mattered to them.
This was another thing that matched up with my experiences. Because the majority of the high achieving students at our school will tell you right now that they are perfectly happy and have no problem with the AP workload. And you see that quite clearly in the student in the film, where when a student, when asked if she wants to understand the material or ace the test says, “I want to ace the test. Get into college. Get a job.”
But I believe the evidence at the beginning of the documentary. In addition to that, my own experience shows that just acing the test doesn’t mean you can get a job. And the difficulty of getting a job is only becoming more true. The job placement rate for college graduates isn’t great. (MILLENNIAL COLLEGE GRADUATES: YOUNG, EDUCATED, JOBLESS, Newsweek, and Despite an Improving Economy, Young Grads Still Face an Uphill Climb, Economic Policy Institute)
We all want a sure path, guaranteed success. We chase AP credits and admission to elite universities in search of it. But we’ve quit looking at the evidence that shows that path doesn’t work any more, if it ever really did.
We’re unable to teach our kids to take risks because we’re too scared to take them ourselves.
And yet in spite of the known facts we’ll take risks with how much sleep they’re not getting, because that won’t show up on a standardized test at the end of the year.
In the next post, I’ll look at one way a school is trying to fix this problem.
More articles in this series and review of Most Likely to Succeed
- Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Review and Discussion – Part 1/11
- I hate school – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 2/11 Does your kid hate school? Do kids they really hate it because they have to work hard and they are lazy, or is there another reason?
- How important is doing well in school to success? – Most Likely to Succeed Part 3/11 Have you told your kid that it’s for important so they can get a good job? How important is doing well in school to success?
- We don’t need human calculators, so why are we training them? – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 4/11 Our education system was designed to train workers for jobs that are being replaced by machines. It’s outdated.
- Fear of Failure in Education – Most Likely to Succeed Part 5/11 Schools are as much afraid of failing the test as students are, in spite of it not being a guarantee of success.
- High Tech High – Most Likely to Succeed Part 6/11 In search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests – High Tech High.
- Project Based Learning – Most Likely to Succeed Part 7/11 Most Likely to Succeed presents the best solution I’ve seen to the problems of run-away tests and hours of homework – project based learning.
- Grades – What are they for? Most Likely to Succeed Part 8/11 What do student grades mean? Are they a measure for improving learning? Or a way to rank kids against each other so we can identify the “best” kids?
- The problems with group projects – Most Likely to Succeed Part 9/11 For group projects like those portrayed at High Tech High in Most Likely to Succeed, schools will have to structure, teach and grade projects differently.
- Cut the School Curriculum – Most Likely to Succeed Part 10/11 To change learning to be more in-depth the way it is presented in Most Likely to Succeed, we’re going to have to cut the school curriculum.
- Most Likely to Succeed – Learn more Part 11/11 Change the antiquated structure of education to prepare students for jobs and create happier, healthier, more creative individuals.