Improving education in California
“Civilizations in decline are consistently characterized
by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity.”
“Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces,
but because of an internal hardening of ideas.”
1. description of the problem (includes comparative student achievement ratings, California’s dropout rate);
2. underlying causes (closed bureaucracies, ineffective standardized student testing, ill-spent education spending, treatment of teachers, insipid and ineffective curriculum, ignoring research);
3. consequences (low production of scientists and engineers, waning economic competitiveness, teacher wastage);
4. a personal note
The information will include, where appropriate, international comparisons and, in 4, it will also include my own experiences of over forty years in education in the UK, USA and Australasia. I hope that after reading you will want to peruse what are, in my opinion, possible solutions. I will send these at a later date.
Description of the Problem
Comparative Student Achievement
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides valuable international comparisons. 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 United States finished in the bottom half. It ranked 28th of 40 countries in math and 18th in reading. Even Czech Republic students, with one-third per capita expenditure of US students, outperform US students.
California’s Dropout Rate
According to the Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project, California State Department of Education has been for years grossly underreporting 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.
Considering 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.
P.S. San Diego USD – In the 7 years of Bersin’s tenure dropout rate has increased 23% – although the state dropout rate has increased (with one exception) every year, San Diego USD has outpaced the state every year.
I do not believe in conspiracy theory but if I did, present education policy-makers in San Diego and area provide a clear example. For example, data has been provided on numerous occasions over the last ten years to the Superintendent and School Board Members of the San Diego City Schools with only one response; and eventually I realized his agenda was political not educational namely based on self-interest not the greater good.
Everywhere I have experienced closed education empires. In an historical perspective what is happening in the USA is the worst socialization of education that has ever occurred in the developed world. An indication of closeness of the system is that I found educators far more open in communist Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia when I visited there in 1973. Major surgery is necessary but the type of reform implemented in San Diego in the last six years will, if applied elsewhere, only worsen an already bad situation. The tragic thing is that people do not even realize the closeness of the present system. I think it is an indication of the threat of factual evidence that administrators responsible for the education of our children refuse to even examine such evidence.
I would add that I not only speak as an experienced educator but also as an administrator. I was Chairman and Vice-Chairman of various committees in the old West Riding of Yorkshire (an area bigger than San Diego) in the UK for nearly seven years. The position was voluntary (we did not even receive traveling expenses) but I always found time to listen to any member of the public if they wished to see me – quite the opposite to my experience in San Diego and area.
Ineffective Standardized Student Testing
The United States 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. 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 students who also out-perform those of the USA also does not test pre-high school children at all. The Czech Republic where education per capita spending is about one-third of the US yet whose students outperformed US students regarding mathematical problem solving, does not test students at elementary level.
The USA, and certainly California, is obsessed with testing students of all ages. Finland and New Zealand have quite a different approach to monitoring students’ progress. 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.”
Sadly, I have never seen a similar statement by an education policy maker in San Diego, California or the USA.
Ill-spent Education Spending
The OECD report describes that where United States does come top is in per capita education expenditure. Education spending per capita on school age children is as follows: Finland $4800; New Zealand $2806; UK $3329; USA $6043.
The United States 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 United States 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.
Treatment of Teachers
Originally from the UK, I, like my British colleagues, do not usually use words like magnificent but that is the word I use to describe teachers in California. The bureaucracy continually does them enormous disservice.
People become teachers usually because they have something to give. It is a heavy burden to go before 25-35 students hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year and those that do possess something very special.
I do not think it is coincidence that in countries where teachers are respected and empowered students are high-achievers; in countries where they are not respected and disempowered students achieve less.
For optimizing performance teachers need our respect and support. Aside from parents they know the children better than anyone. They need a thorough professional training and further in-service support and courses. They also need to be empowered – more will be said about this later.
Insipid and Ineffective Curriculum
The following could apply to any part of the elementary curriculum but will relate to the US decline in science and mathematics.
Reasons for the US decline
Perhaps the main reason why fewer and fewer people are studying science is, firstly, the boring, insipid and uninspiring science and mathematics curricula and, secondly, something needs to be done about the way we test children. If we inspire children they will grow up with a love of learning. We do exactly the opposite in the USA. The curricula is test driven, teachers and schools are disempowered and we consider that by finding out what an elementary childrens’ short term memory capabilities are we can accurately evaluate where children are academically or even their future prospects. There is a place for monitoring a childrens’ progress but it is not the present obsessive current standardized testing.
Teachers’ Education Institute can provide you with content and methodology for any subject area at any age for the elementary school child. The curricula is not arbitrary. It is based on thorough research, 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 – you will not find it elsewhere in the USA.
It reflects badly on what is happening in California that we continually have to implement policies, particularly testing young children, that goes against overwhelming international evidence of the futility and wastage in doing so. There is very little freedom in education when compared with the freedom in countries such as Finland, New Zealand and Czech Republic. For example, art and music should be basic ingredients of the education of the elementary school child. This is not arbitrary. They are needed in order to optimize neurological development.
The policies mandated by the State of California have resulted in almost total neglect in these areas. Detailed descriptions of the permanent damage to children is left to another time.
It is crucial that both content and methodology are age-related. When this occurs children achieve and both their learning and wellbeing are optimized. Every young child is an artist, every young child possesses wonder and curiosity.
When education relates to the mindset of the recipient children learn, enjoy the experience and are motivated to learn more.
Low production of scientists and engineers
There are some very worrisome trends in the United States with respect to the US global share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics expertise. 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. Note in Figure 1 that 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.
Figure 1 shows that China is producing three times more engineers than the United States. Figure 2 shows that the U.S. again comes out very low, even compared to European countries, in terms of the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the fields of engineering and science.
Figure 1: BS/BA Degrees Among 24-year olds in 2001
Fig 2: Engineering & Science Degrees as a % of all Bachelor Degrees
Singapore 68%, China 58%, S Korea 36%, Taiwan 34%, Germany 31%, UK 28%, Sweden 24%, Belguim 22%, USA 17
Another disturbing trend is in the numbers of individuals receiving a Ph.D. in physical science and engineering. In 1987, 4,700 U.S. citizens received these degrees, compared to 5,600 Asians. In 2001, the U.S. figure had dropped slightly to 4,400 and the number of Asians had risen to 24,900. That is a dramatic shift. We should also note that the percentage of Asians getting science and engineering Ph.D.s at U.S. universities is declining. Indeed, 25 percent fewer Asians got such degrees at U.S. universities in 2001 than in 1996.
This data relating to physical science and engineering Ph.D.s was assembled by Professor R. E. Smalley, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Rice University. His disturbing conclusion: “By 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia.”
Waning Economic Competitiveness
Why are these figures important?
Traditionally, it has been our technical human talent that has driven the industrial success of the USA. 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 industrial leadership in the USA weaken.
Teacher Retention and Wastage
Teacher training is a costly business. Where they are disrespected and disempowered many leave teaching within a very a few years of starting. The wastage is enormous and costly. About one-third of new teachers leave the profession during their first three years, and one-half within the first five. Further, those with the highest academic credentials are the most likely to leave teaching. The USA and California cannot afford such wastage financially or in human terms. Administrators need to stop making teachers the scapegoats for society’s ills. Such targeting certainly yields one result – fewer able people entering the teaching profession!
A Personal Note
There have been two times in my life when “special” things occurred. The second soon after I moved with my family to New Zealand in September 1985. In October 1985 I contacted Nolene MacDonald, the District Inspector for South Island (Ministry of Education). She invited me to give a presentation the following week. As soon as I met her I knew we were talking the same language but even I was surprised when, a short while later, I was contacted and informed that the Ministry had booked a flight for me to travel to Wellington to give a presentation to officials in the Ministry.
Again, I was able to share a number of the things especially the fact how the present educational administrative structure diminished responsibility at a local level and how the arts and music are crucial ingredients for balanced hemispheric development and for optimizing students’ learning and wellbeing. I was grateful for the opportunity to do this and also to briefly meet the Minister of Education.
I will never know whether I had any influence, nor does it matter, but some eighteen months later a Commission was set up to examine the education structure in New Zealand and I submitted a detailed description of why it was important for schools to be part of the community and that local responsibility should be paramount. In 1988 the Commission issued its report and later the changes were implemented.
Everything that I wanted to happen in education occurred and I settled down to a very pleasant lifestyle in beautiful New Zealand. I won’t go into of why I returned to San Diego except to say the cost has been considerable. I should be enjoying life in New Zealand, playing golf and bridge, walking and fishing and writing e-lessons and e-reports at my leisure. What I am involved in has cost me two university careers, a forty year old marriage (my wife never forgave me for returning to California), a New Zealand pension and universal health care.
I do not need any kudos for that. I know that already perhaps thousands of teachers are using the lessons and material I have written and I am, therefore, possibly having an influence on the education of hundreds of thousands of students. I cannot ask for more although if I did have appropriate resources I could reach many more teachers. But compared with having an input into optimizing students’ learning and wellbeing my personal preferences are somewhat irrelevant.
However, it has been very hard sledding in California. I was here four years full-time (1981-1985) ten years part-time (1985-1995) and ten years full-time (1995-present) and, understandably, my level of frustration is somewhat high. I had planned to spend twenty-five years in the USA contributing in any way I could contributing to optimizing childrens’ learning and wellbeing. I never imagined the system would be the most inflexible and closed I have ever encountered.
The twenty-five years ends in August and at that time I had planned to evaluate whether I should stay or return to New Zealand. It has not been easy seeing so many children hurting and personally remaining powerless! However, at the beginning of the year I at last found a school that supports my work (albeit it, in Los Angeles) and you have positively responded to my letter (my second response in ten years!) so perhaps, at last, things are looking up!
I hope you may be interested in further correspondence. Next time I will elaborate upon solutions to some of the problems. Major reforms are desperately needed but the type of reform implemented in San Diego in the last six years will only exacerbate an already difficult and bad situation.
Provision of e-lessons and e-information by Teachers’ Education Institute (TEI)
Unfortunately, and due to the lack of resources, we are unable to satisfy demand. I hope it does not sound arrogant but TEI can provide you with content and methodology for any subject area at any age for the elementary school child. Our 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 – you will not find it elsewhere in the USA.
When I have the time I write and upload e-lessons. It has taken me the best part of fifteen years to write and produce the four hundred e-lessons available. I do not seek anything for myself but at the present rate of progress it would take me nearly five hundred years to produce the e-lessons I want to make available.
If you are able to support our initiative in any way we would be most grateful. Our objective is to provide free detailed e-lessons for every subject area for the elementary student. If required, we would also provide information as to the raison d’être, and also the content and methodology, of each e-lesson. (For teachers’ responses to the information available at please go to https://molletacademy.com/testimonials/
There are phases and stages of development that are universal in nature. The countries that implement policies nearest to our own curricula are Finland and New Zealand and we do not believe it is 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 programs offered in Finland and New Zealand and we are not surprised that the performance of US students does not compare well with these countries. I am happy to provide a detailed comparison of why New Zealand students outperform US students, one of the main reasons being the rich curriculum that relates to the mindset of children. I am also happy to provide TEI sample lessons indicating how the arts can be integrated into academic subject areas.
It is but one indication of the present system that many parents are denied the type of education they want for their children. Ocean Charter School started in September 2004. The school already has over 200 applications for the 35 vacancies in the next academic year. In a healthy, free and democratic education system that would not be occurring. Parents would possess multiple choices so sadly Ocean Charter School will be turning away nearly 200 children who should be receiving the education it offers.
I hope the above information is of interest to you and that you will respond. Regarding solutions, TEI is clear about the policies that need to be implemented. However, there exist considerable political constraints and it is unavoidable that the rectifying strategies should take these into account. We are happy to provide you with information if required and would suggest a stage approach to the implementation of possible solutions. However, TEI is clear that we can diminish the damage to children by providing e-lessons and for the foreseeable future we will focus on achieving this objective. I look forward to hearing from you.
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 they way different ethnic minorities have been absorbed into California society without conflict provides a model for the rest of the world. However, my main concern is what I regard as our most precious possession, namely childrens’ minds, and I am clear that the present system is damaging both to their learning and wellbeing. To do nothing would be unacceptable.
Dr. David L. Mollet
History deals harshly with those that ignore factual evidence presented clearly and unambiguously.
Kindness & beneficence are great wisdoms – if something has been given to you always reciprocate.
You can negotiate to information on student achievement amongst countries in the developed world from this page (see OECD study: Knowledge and Skills for Life PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment). The information is made available in different formats. For example, in a Special Report (detailed information); in a Newsletter that contains a lesson; in an article (for publication in newspapers and magazines etc.); and in a letter that can be sent to interested parties.
The Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) exists for the benefit of teachers, parents and educators who wish to bring about the best possible education for our children. There are two main objectives of the MLA.
The first is to give teachers, based on the latest research, free detailed lesson plans so that they can devote their time in customizing content and methodology so that it relates in the most efficient way to the students’ progress and wellbeing. As well as providing free lessons MLA will produce a Quarterly Newsletter (Click here for latest copy). Part of the contents of the Newsletter will be information on countries that have different administrative educational systems and whose students out-perform those of the USA. Click here to go to the page providing the links to this information or click on any Links button.
In the latest issue of the Newsletter we examine a OECD study: Knowledge and Skills for Life PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) published on Tuesday 6 April 2004. We find two countries whose students out-perform those of the USA possess quite different education administrative structures to those of the USA. In fact, we find that nationally and state-wide the USA has been moving for some considerable time in the opposite direction to those of Finland and New Zealand.
The second is to bring change to the education administrative structure.
The objective of MLA is to give students, based on the latest research:
1. content and lessons in different subject areas;
2. methodology that is relevant to any given age at elementary level;
3. a sensitive but thorough monitoring of progress;
4. education that relates to their experience of life;
5. the enhancement and the development of all different skills;
6. an environment in which they enjoy learning.
Provide teachers with necessary resources and material, based on the latest research, to enable students to:
1. develop literacy through different content areas;
2. reach their unique potential;
3. remember their schooling with affection;
4. desire the same type of schooling for their children.
Why you should fund this project.
1. Because children and their minds are our most precious possessions.
2. Any parent or teacher will tell you that their child/children has unique faculties and attributes that they bring to this world.
3. Education helps or hinders each child’s “destiny”. This project, based on research and experience, will create lessons and classroom structure to accentuate and develop each child’s unique potential.
4. Research validates the lesson structures used for this project.
5. Education should consist of two elements. Firstly, the drawing out from the child’s experience. The USA educational system largely ignores this dynamic. Secondly, the teaching of our accumulated knowledge that relates to the mindset of children. The system only relates to this mindset in a haphazard and fragmented way.
6. Therefore what should education be based on? Proven research indicates that education can be divided into three.
a) How children develop. Teachers need a theory of child development to practice their craft efficiently – “Why is it taught?” State education provides a simplistic answer to this question and the human mind is not simple.
b) Content or curriculum – “What is taught?” Mainstream education obsession with testing children results in teaching that revolves around the content that is going to be in the tests; this is particularly harmful to young children.
c) Interaction between teachers and children or Methodology of Teaching – “How is it taught?” Mainstream education does not examine this area. To examine a model for teaching click here.
7. Information and lessons can be made available to teachers on a worldwide basis by way of the internet. They will be free and relate to existing frameworks. Appropriate acknowledgment to sponsors will be included.
8. Teachers will want these lessons. In a pilot program of ten e-newsletters with lessons, 2,100 teachers subscribed within six weeks and without any advertising. Demand was too great to satisfy.
9. Demand can be satisfied on an ongoing basis by finding appropriate donors. Initial task to provide around 300 free e-lessons that can be downloaded together with video clips showing rational behind and supporting content.
10. Please see business plan at http://molletlearningacademy.com/corporate/MLABusinessPlan.pdf for outline ov various stages of development.
11. Commitment by Dr. David L Mollet to this unique project will be full-time. His children are adults and “gone” and he wishes to make a further contribution to education however challenging this may be. He would prefer appropriate remuneration but he is willing to administer the project gratis if necessary. His main difficulty has been to find support, monetary and social, for his analysis of what needs improving or changing in education particularly in the countries that he has lived and worked in, namely UK, USA and New Zealand. The people he has met in the last 23 years, and who agree with him, have usually left education. Those who are still in education say it is impossible to bring about the necessary changes. However, he still believes it is possible to bring about these changes even if it takes many years and the bottom line, he believes, is that we are selling our children short if we do not make every effort to do so.
Click here to see details of required funding.
Arnold Toynbee, a famous historian, said, “Civilizations decline, not so much because of invasions or other external forces, but because of an internal hardening of ideas.” Those existing in state education in California and the majority of the rest of the USA are based on inflexible and rigid ideas. What can only be termed the politicization of educational ideas is occurring nationwide.
A few years ago in a survey taken by pollster Mark Mellman 40% of likely California voters named elementary and secondary education as the biggest problem facing the state. That is more than the total for the next four issues – crime and drugs, health care, immigration and taxes. Evidence on the preceding pages indicate a real problem and the people who are really hurting are our children. Tragically it need not be happening but the consequences of politicising education are disastrous. It is obvious that one of the main determinants, if not the main one, is the extent to which the workforce has been educated.
The UK and USA are now both in steep decline and it isn’t rocket science to work out why! We shall not succeed in our task in our lifetimes but we do seek to sow the seeds for future generations. Initially, we aim to make available gratis to teachers hundreds of e-lessons. A study of these lessons will indicate that they are in many ways unique.
What do we believe in?
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. Click here if you wish to access free lesson on papyrus (enter Papyrus in Subject line – any information you supply is treated in complete confidence).
4. Click here for Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs.
5. Click here to find out about Kush. Kush is Africa’s oldest interior civilization. Do your students, particularly African-American, have the opportunity to study this part of their cultural heritage?
6. Click here for articles and research reports.
7. Click here to check out evaluations of pilots carried out in schools in San Diego and 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)
8. Click here to check out evaluation of WER Unit Kush by USA leading authority.
9. Information on workshops/presentations for introducing the MLA approach into public schools available at https://molletacademy.com/mla-workshops/
10. For an explanation of the philosophy behind the writing of these packs click https://molletacademy.com/mla-pedagogy/
11. Click https://molletacademy.com/sdsu-courses/ 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
USA: 619-463-1270, 6656 Reservoir Lane, San Diego, CA 92115 (Skype waldorfedu)
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/
If you wish to subscribe to MLA Newsletter please do so at https://molletacademy.com/ Thanks and take care, David