Chapter 1: Setting the Scene
Chapter 2: Where to Start?
Chapter 3: OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4: UNICEF Report
Chapter 5: Decline of USA
Chapter 6: The UK Experience
Chapter 7: My UK Experience
Chapter 8: People at the coalface
Chapter 9: Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion
Some time back I was interviewed by a trainee reporter. The following interview was, as far as I know, never published but hopefully it will give New Zealand educators a perspective on the ill-thought out and damaging present California and USA policies. It was eventually called, “The interview that will not be published!”
“The interview that will not be published!”
Dr. David L. Mollet has been involved as a teacher and teacher trainer for over forty years in Europe, USA and Australasia. Please find below his thoughts on the present system in California and the USA.
Why are you critical of what has been happening in education in San Diego between 1998 and 2005?
I am delighted to relate that in late 2005 San Diego School Board at long last made an appropriate professional decision with the appointment of Carl Cohn as Superintendent. Therefore, what is said below that relates to San Diego City Schools no longer apples.
However, we do have to learn from our mistakes (policies that increased the drop-out rate by 23% and which also increased the teenage suicide rate should be evaluated) and I have retained what was originally written – this follows.
It isn’t only what has been occurring in San Diego although, yes, because it is the worst scenario I have experienced, I do believe that to say nothing would be unacceptable. The main objective of education should be to optimize students’ learning and wellbeing but the scenario throughout the California, indeed the USA, will only bring about the very opposite results to what is intended.
I am not saying that as an opinion but as a statement based on factual evidence, and I still cannot understand why administrators here, in my experience without exception, will not examine factual evidence that clearly indicates that the present policies are going in the wrong direction.
And the factual evidence is?
There are many indicators of what constitutes successful education policy. Three studies that every US administrator should peruse are those recently published by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The first study, published April 2000, measured mainly reading literacy but also included science and math tests. The second study, published December 2004, measured the ability of 15-year-olds to solve real-life math problems. The third study, published 2007, measured scientific literacy.
Each study provides information regarding student achievement in countries around the world. For example, high school students in Hong Kong, Finland and South Korea are the highest achievers in mathematics among those in 40 surveyed countries while students in the USA finished in the bottom half. It ranked 28th of 40 countries in math and 18th in reading. Even Czech Republic students, with well under half per capita expenditure of USA students, outperform US students.
The OECD report also describes that where USA does come top is in per capita education expenditure. Education spending per capita (latest OECD 2004 statistics) on school age children is as follows: USA $6043; Finland $4800; UK $3329; New Zealand $2806; Czech Republic $2541. The USA was also cited as having the poorest outcomes per dollar spent on education.
As (former) Education Secretary Rod Paige said on seeing the latest report, “If we are less competitive educationally, we will soon become less competitive economically. That’s just a cruel fact.”
The results from the OECD studies indicate that, at the secondary-school level, the learning gap between the USA and its competitors in Europe and Asia is widening. Also, countries as diverse as Finland and New Zealand show that what happens in the education of elementary school children will determine how such students perform at high school level and in adult life.
Project fifty years in the future and which countries will be in ascendancy and which in decline? The evidence speaks for itself.
But aren’t test scores improving?
If we are truly interested in optimizing students’ learning and wellbeing, we need to examine the type of testing that is occurring in countries whose students outperform USA students. The USA has the highest number of teaching hours per school year in the primary and high school grades, and the second highest for middle-school students.
The curriculum is also test driven more than any other country in the developed world and it follows that it also tests children more than the countries that outperform the USA. We need as a matter of urgency to examine content and methodology in those countries.
Please appreciate that I am not talking about classroom testing which any good teacher uses and which is necessary and acceptable in order to monitor students’ progress. I am talking about the widespread use of standardized testing which is very prevalent in the USA.
And those countries?
Finland whose students come out top as far as performance in problem solving and near the top in nearly every category has rejected the whole idea of standardized testing for all ages except school-leavers. New Zealand whose students also out-perform those of the USA also does not test pre-high school children at all.
The Czech Republic with well under half per capita expenditure of the US yet whose students outperformed US students regarding mathematical problem solving, does not test students at elementary level. If you require information about other countries, I am happy to provide it but certainly the general trend is to reduce or even eliminate standardized testing for pre-high school students.
The USA is alone amongst OECD countries in the extent to which students are tested. Not only is the USA alone but administrators in those countries have a totally different definition of education.
Well, for example the New Zealand Ministry of Education fully appreciates that learning patterns can be different, “Successful outcomes for all students require a range of learning pathways. One size does not fit all. Children arrive at school with different early childhood experiences and different levels of development. How students learn, the pace at which they learn and their interests vary between individuals.
These differences are recognized, to an extent, through the current system. This gives teachers and schools responsibility for organizational and teaching decisions and through provision for immersion learning and designated character schools. However, the current system needs to continually look for ways to provide flexible pathways, especially for learners with diverse needs.”
A Finnish administrator describing why Finland emphasizes music education, “Finland has completely devoted itself to music, not for any emotional or moral uplift, but because it is good for the brain… It is essential to the neurological development of children, not what you tack on after all the supposedly important work has been done,” and “When you invest in culture, it always comes back, always.”
Sadly, I have never seen a similar statement by an education policy maker in San Diego, California or the USA and the results are disastrous for both children and the future of the USA.
What proof do you have of that?
Certainly one of the main determinants of our happiness and wellbeing as an adult is what has happened to us in childhood.
As the USA is achievement driven let me give two examples where, because children are inspired, society has greatly benefited. For example, there is emphasis on music education in Finland.
Finland has a population only a third larger than San Diego County yet there are twenty-seven symphony orchestras and twelve opera companies. Helsinki, which has half the population of San Diego, possesses five symphony orchestras.
New Zealand has a population of about three and a half million (same as San Diego County). Children at a very early age are taught a non-competitive form of rugby. New Zealand has the best rugby team in the world beating countries such as England and France with populations nearing sixty million. Incidentally, New Zealand also possesses four symphony orchestras and two opera companies.
If we inspire children, they will grow up with a love of learning. We do exactly the opposite in the USA and the results of doing this are clear. What does surprise me is the money that private foundations have poured into San Diego ($57 Million) when the results show that the type of policy supported has increased both the dropout and suicide rates amongst teenagers.
That is a very controversial statement – do you have evidence?
As far as California is concerned and according to the Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project, California State Department of Education has been for years grossly under-reporting dropout rates claiming that 87% of high school students graduate.
The Harvard report puts California’s graduation rate at just over 70% while the California Parents for Educational Choice (CPEC) asserts that the true graduation rate may be closer to 60%.
Gary Orefield, director of the Harvard project states, “Large urban school districts in California have become dropout factories. The economic and social impacts of this dropout crisis are too enormous for California to ignore.”
Alan Bonsteel, president of the CPEC says, “The budget crisis will eventually go away but a teenager who drops out of high school today will be a tragedy for our society for a half-century to come.”
Both the Harvard Report and the CPEC agree that the first step to resolving the crisis is to acknowledge that it exists.
As far as San Diego is concerned, in the last five years of Bersin’s tenure San Diego USD received a total of $57 million of private grants.
What have Bersin’s reforms achieved? The result of this prolific spending is that in the seven years of Bersin’s tenure, the dropout rate has increased 23% – San Diego USD has even outpaced the state of California which has also increased every year.
A survey of 1,800 high school students in the San Diego Unified School District shows that about one in ten of them attempted suicide last year (again higher than the state and national average). Sadly, if one examines what students have to continually go through at elementary school it is little wonder that many enter high school with little motivation to learn and want to leave as soon as possible.
What are you involved in to try to rectify this situation?
I am involved in two strategies. One is to provide information to administrators about what is happening in other countries but, unfortunately, there is little interest. Sadly, I do not think administrators appreciate that there is a crisis and eventually if and when they do, it will be too late.
The time lag in education is measured in decades not years so whatever is implemented at present will determine what happens in decades to come.
Sadly, I am reconciled that the necessary changes will not be implemented and the information I provide is regarded as a threat or ignored. The only other thing I can do is to make available, within the resources available to me, lessons that optimize students’ learning and wellbeing. I would add that with additional resources I could do much more.
I am clear that there are phases and stages of development that are universal in nature. The countries that implement content and methodology nearest to these phases and stages of development are Finland and New Zealand; and it is not accidental that students in these countries are high achievers.
In many ways, California and the USA implement policies that are not in sympathy with the programmes offered in Finland and New Zealand and I am not surprised that the performance of USA students does not compare well with these countries.
I am happy to provide a detailed comparison of why New Zealand students outperform USA students (the countries are comparable in that both have ethnic groups that under-achieve); one of the main reasons of the success of New Zealand students is the rich curriculum that relates to the mindset of children. Many of the lessons indicate how the arts can be integrated into academic subject areas.
The curricula is thoroughly researched, relates to specific phases and stages of development, includes a detailed methodology of teaching, and nurtures and develops emotional intelligence in harmony and balance with cognitive intelligence – this is crucial for optimizing both childrens’ learning and wellbeing.
Are there any good things happening?
Yes, of course, there are many great things happening so please do not think that the above is criticism for criticism’s sake. I am always glad to emphasize the many good things about the California education system. For example, the tertiary education system is the best I have experienced and the way different ethnic minorities have been absorbed into California society without conflict provides a model for the rest of the world.
However, my main objective is to optimize students’ learning and wellbeing and at pre-high school level the USA is going in the wrong direction. Already the USA is facing serious problems that will probably be the main determinants of its decline. Even a cursory study of history indicates that every civilization at the very time it was its peak was sowing the seeds of its decline.
The British historian, Arnold Toynbee, in his voluminous writings, said, “Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces, but because of an internal hardening of ideas” and “Civilizations in decline are consistently characterized by a tendency towards standardisation and uniformity.”
We are seeing the worst socialisation of education that has ever occurred in the developed world in the USA, and the results will be the main reason for the decline of this country. For example and specifically, there are some very worrisome trends with respect to the USA global share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise.
Again, please provide evidence of why this is important
Traditionally, it has been technical human talent that has driven US industrial success. Basic science, technology, engineering and mathematics knowledge is vitally important in the business world.
For perspective, over 50 percent of the CEOs of our Fortune 100 companies come from a technical background. In addition, physical science and engineering capabilities at the Ph.D. level typically drive the kind of highly prized innovations that lead to the emergence of new industries. With expertise in these fields declining in the U.S. while rising in other parts of the world, we risk seeing US industrial leadership weaken.
At present there is low production of scientists and engineers with the US share of this expertise is decreasing significantly, both at the bachelor’s and at the Ph.D. levels. Recently, the National Science Foundation published data demonstrating that the USA is producing far fewer engineers than are other parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Among 24-year-olds in the year 2001 who had a B.S. or B.A. degree, only five percent in the U.S. were engineers, compared to 39 percent in China and 19 percent or more in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. As Professor R. E. Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Rice University concluded, “By 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia.”
It is urgent that we inspire children to study mathematics and science and the present structure is failing in doing that.
It is also clear that the system needs major surgery but the reforms enacted in San Diego in the last seven years, and now likely to be implemented throughout California, will only worsen an already bad situation.
And your final thoughts?
We must not let children down. They have no power and totally depend on us to provide the best for them. I believe that any detached examination of what is occurring in countries whose students outperform US students provide content and methodology that the US would do well to absorb into the present system.
My reason for saying all the above is to optimize students’ learning and wellbeing. The consequences of doing that will not only mean happier children and them learning more but eventually will mean them leading happier and more fulfilled lives as adults with accruing benefits to society. What is the point of education if it doesn’t aim for these things?
P.S. On the 10th July I came across the following news item – California Assembly Bill AB 1246 would require the state Department of Education to set learning standards in four areas: mathematics, science, reading-language arts, and history-social science for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds.
The bill identifies several specific topics to be covered. For example, it says the history-social science standard should address citizenship and national symbols. Mathematics would touch upon the classification and measurement of numbers; science would include earth, physical and life sciences; and reading-language arts would spotlight vocabulary development and recognition of the alphabet.
No comment except to say that I am in agreement with Toynbee that one of the main indicators and determinants of a civilization in decline is the tendency towards standardization and uniformity.
If interested, Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) and WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) produces Teaching Packs that are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Original material is the Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs (written initially for New Zealand teachers). On request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added and renamed WER Teaching Packs to distinguish them from MLA Teaching Packs. All lessons are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands.
Business Plan at http://molletlearningacademy.com/corporate/MLABusinessPlan.pdf
For overall content of Ancient Civilisations please click
Program Overview Ancient Civilisations
For overall content of Ancient Kush please click Program Overview Kush
For overall content of History of California please click
Overview Teachers Handbook CA
For overall content re improving reading and language skills through history please click Overview Reading History
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
mathematics please click Overview Teaching Math
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching
fractions please click Fractions Teacher Handbook
For overall content re MLA approach to teaching multiplication tables please click Multiplication Tables Teachers Handbook
Previous PowerPoint presentations converted to pdfs for wordpress
Ancient China P_China
Ancient Egypt P_Egypt
Ancient Greece P_Greece
Ancient India P_India
Ancient Israelites P_Israelites
Ancient Kush P_Kush
Early Humankind/Prehistory P_Prehistory
Ancient Rome P_Rome
The following free sample lessons (sorry limit one at present) are available in this order: Ancient Civilisations (Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient India, Ancient Kush, Ancient Israelites, Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, Prehistory/Early Humankind), Fractions, Multiplication Tables, History of California, See below titles for descriptions.
Ancient China (Lessons 4/5 of Module 2)
Mathematics, Counting Rods and Chinese Abacus
Ancient Egypt (Lesson 3 of Module 3)
Papyrus – how it is made, activities etc
Ancient Greece (Lesson 1 of Module 2)
Story “Parrhasius and Helena”, Guided Reading,
The Court of Law, Simulate an Athenian Court of Law.
Ancient India (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“Asoka and the Mauryan Empire,” “India’s National Emblem,”
Assessment Rubric for India’s National Emblem,
Ancient Kush (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
Story “Expedition to Jebel Barkal,” “Jebel Barkal: A Poem,”
Guided Reading, Review Exercises
Ancient Israelites (Lesson 2 of Module 1)
Story “Abraham,” Father of a Nation, Guided Reading
Ancient Rome (Lesson 3 of Module 2)
“The people of Rome speak out,” Story “Julius Caesar,”
Crossing the Rubicon, Guided Reading
Mesopotamia (Lesson 4 of Module 3)
Story “Gilgamesh,” “The Death of Enkidu.”
Prehistory/Early Humankind (Lesson 2 of Module 2)
The Crô-Magnons including story “The Lascaux Caves”,
Guided Reading and “The Cave Paintings at Altmira.”
Fractions SubUnit 3.4 Drama: A Tale of Fractions
A free lesson/drama involving students in a drama about the Pied Piper of Hamelin
Multiplication Tables SubUnit 3.7 Ten Times Table: Mr. Pickles
A free lesson, activities, story, game/, patterns,
cooperative learning activities about the ten times table
History of California Lesson 5.6 The Gold Rush: Part 1
A free lesson describing the background of the gold rush and life in the gold fields
For video clips please see
McLaren Rd talk
Be the ONE who listens
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Each SubUnit (not Unit) costs USA $19.95 NZ $24.95
(This price includes permission to photocopy)
1. The MLA approach to education believes in developing the creative and imaginative side of the student in harmony with the intellectual and cognitive. To achieve this, MLA Teaching Packs make stories and drama an integral part of the lessons and involve students through storytelling, art, simulations, drama, craft, discussion and creation of a personal record.
3. In a MLA Teaching Pack you will find teacher guidelines, stories providing an in-depth experience, information sheets presented in an interesting and stimulating format, activity sheets, suggestions for further research, maps with related activities, questions for discussion and assessment, dramas for class/school performance, guidance for the student’s personal record or portfolio, a variety of review exercises and contents designed and structured for authentic assessment
4. For an explanation of the philosophy behind the writing of these packs click here
(David Mollet’s HomePage)
5. If you are interested in how your students can work with top quality papyrus (imported from Egypt) click here.
6. We have also customized our material for USA public schools. This material includes monitoring and assessment procedures for students some of which are not based on the MLA approach.
7. Information on workshops/presentations for introducing the MLA approach into public schools available at: here (WideHorizon) and here (Waldorf))
8. Click here to read what teachers think about our lessons/newsletters.
“These resource packs contain unbound, ready-to-use reproducible masters, that are varied, simple, and appealing to students. The interactive strategies suggested are suitable for independent, small-group, and whole-class assignments.”
(Grade 6 Course Models – California State Department of Education)
9. Click here to go to author’s experiences in the Waldorf world.
10. Click here for details of on-line courses accredited by San Diego State University.
Dr. David Mollet firstname.lastname@example.org
NZ: h 09-555-2021 m 022-101-1741, 41 Hilling St, Titirangi, Auckland 0604
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1) The material was initially written for New Zealand teachers but on request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added. To view this material please visit https://molletacademy.com/
WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) https://molletacademy.com/widehorizon-2/ Waldorf Education Resources (WER) https://molletacademy.com/waldorf/
2) MLA is also involved in researching on an international basis, what works and what doesn’t work. Most of the research results can be seen at https://molletacademy.com/research-reports/ while a draft of a book The Task for New Zealand Education is at https://molletacademy.com/the-task-for-nz-education/
3) Blogs at http://www.molletlearningacademy.blogspot.co.nz/
4) Business Plan at http://molletlearningacademy.com/corporate/MLABusinessPlan.pdf
5) Papyrus https://molletacademy.com/papyrus/