- - Sunday, June 1, 2014

According to the latest international rating of education in 65 countries, American public schools are in a free fall. The overall rank of the U.S. is 29th in the world — behind the Slovak Republic, Russia, and Vietnam. Asia dominates the top 10. Shanghai, China, is the international leader, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, South Korea and Macao. Including Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, four of the top six are Chinese.

These are some of the results of the educational research division of the Organization of European Cooperation and Development (OECD) called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which issues its report every three years. The test population is 15-year-old students who are tested on their critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities in mathematics, science and reading.

The OECD has found that student achievement is the best indicator of a nation’s future economic health. By that measure, the United States is on a downward economic trend in the near future. Looking at the American economy of the past few years, some observers believe that this trend is already in evidence.

Another measure of educational success is the dropout rate for high schools. According to the Center for Educational Statistics (U.S. Department of Education), 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year. That is an average of 7,000 students every day, 25 percent of the entire population. Most of these students were in the PISA test range since most states’ truancy laws apply only until the age of 16. They surely did not help the U.S. averages.

Critics of these rankings contend that they are based on such abstract generalizations that they are virtually useless. They point to the substantial differences between even neighboring schools let alone the cultural, linguistic and geographical differences between schools in 65 countries. It is also true that American schools have stayed more or less the same while foreign schools have adopted and adapted American approaches and have caught up and surpassed the Americans.

Yet the global competition that all adults are facing in this century suggests that the PISA ranking of adolescents from such diverse environments provides at least a glimpse of the relative preparation the various countries are offering tomorrow’s adults.

It is clear that failing schools lead to failing societies. According to these data, our turn is coming if not already here. Our schools need a lot of fixing if America is to retain its standard of living. So far, the emphasis of state and federal agencies has been on curriculum, notably the “No Child Left Behind” program and the current “Common Core” program.

There is one group, however, that believes that the problems are much more fundamental than curriculum or standards. A far more practical reason for our public school problems is the fact that our teachers have less and less time to actually teach content. They spend most of their class time trying to maintain a modicum of order in their classroom, which is becoming a more and more chaotic environment.

The “Time to Teach” folks take the approach that children come to school not only not ready to learn but also ignorant of what behavior is expected and necessary if learning is to take place. They need to be socialized, taught the proper rules of the road in a class so that the teacher actually has time to teach.

The Time to Teach approach is a systematic and detailed process for achieving this classroom control. The process involves the students’ participation in developing and enforcing the behavioral standards that govern their classroom experience — up to and including disciplinary measures. The Time to Teach program was developed by teachers and has been presented to thousands of educators and administrators by the Center for Teacher Effectiveness, a company dedicated to helping teachers deal productively with the basic problem of many American public schools, namely classroom management.

Teacher reaction to this approach has been overwhelmingly positive. For many, the discovery of this process has meant the salvation of their careers, as the turnover rate in Time to Teach schools has decreased significantly. There are hundreds of thousands of idealistic and dedicated teachers in America who want to do a good job but who feel thwarted at every turn.

This writer was able to attend a recent Time To Teach workshop and came away a believer in the process.

Time To Teach is not the only system that addresses classroom behavior, but it has proven to be effective. Time To Teach does not solve all the problems of public education, such as the increasing bureaucratization of school systems, the parental neglect that many American children experience, or the inadequate preparation and selection process of teachers.

But just because we can’t do everything does not mean that we can’t do anything. Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness — and that is what Time to Teach is doing.

For more information, click here.

For exampales of Time to Teach techniques, click here.

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