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EDUCATION -- compare today's system with that of years past

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Schools today still generally have the same structure as that of prior decades; students follow a standard schedule, beginning, ending, and changing classes at the same times—this standardization was strengthened by No Child Left Behind of the early 2000s. One of the significant changes brought about in the twenty-first-century is that of advanced technology. Students always have their cell phones on them, turn in homework via the internet, or even attend classes online. Schools are also now more diverse, especially in comparison to nineteenth-century classrooms. There's also a recent trend of teachers being laid-off and budgets cut within public schools. 

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One of the major differences is the degree of variety and choice a person has in today's education system as compared to the education system of the past. Even in the formative years, there's a lot more choice. There are magnet schools and charter schools for example. Private schools are more widely available than they were in the past. 

In higher education, there's even more choice: traditional college/university, online colleges, trade schools, and all kinds of self-guided learning programs. Scott Young's MIT Challenge is a great example of self-guided learning in the digital age. 

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I began teaching in a public high school 1968.  From my perspective, the basics have not changed: classrooms, teacher, students, books, paper.  After those items, little is the same.  From the dress code to technology and everything in between, things are different. I am basing my experiences on two schools because my husband taught in a different high school in the same town. 

Taking one thing at a time--the dress code for both teachers and students has completely changed.  The women teachers could not wear anything but dresses, skirts and blouses, hose, and high heels.  The men had to wear ties and dress shirts and pants.  No pants or certainly no jeans for anyone.  The female students also wore the same as the teachers, except for the shoes.  The big question was the length of the skirt.  Mini-skirts were popular---and the principals loved to measure the girls' skirts.  In addition, the boys would be sent home for outlandish hair cuts--no mohawks or shaved heads or facial hair of any sort.  This did not begin to change until the early 1970s. This is from the 1965 High School Handbook:

The popular clothing fashion for high school girls is clean, simple dresses, or blouses and skirts and bobbysoxer. Many girls wear flats to make their outfit look dressier.

The boys usually wear clean blue jeans, cords, peggers, and comfortable tee shirts or sports shirts. The most important thing is cleanliness. It doesn’t matter how simple your outfit is, if it is clean.
The high school student usually wears his school clothes to most of the school games and parties, unless otherwise specified.

Discipline was certainly different.  Capital punishment was still in vogue.  The principals had the paddle where the students could see it.  In the lower grades, each teacher had his/her own paddle.  This practice did not end until the late 1970s.

In my state, the teacher's pay was less than poor in my beginning year.  My first salary as a full time high school speech and English teacher was $4,000 per year.  The salaries did not begin to grow until the mid 1970s, and then still very slowly. You were paid about $400 per year more if you had a masters degree.

In 1968, there was one blackline mimeograph machine for the teachers to use that made a mess on your hands and clothes. Other than a 35 mm reel to reel film machine with 1950s movies, there was no other technology.  The teacher used the blackboard, the textbooks, a teacher edition if there was one, and her creativeness.  Seldom did the classroom come with a set of dictionarys or any other kind of reference books.

There were no spring breaks when I first started teaching.  That practice did not come into the schools until sometime in the mid 1970s.  The last semester of school was so long without any breaks other than may be day at Easter.

Parents were less involved in the classrooms. Overall, I believe that parents respected and trusted teachers' opinions more than they do today.  That comes from a lot of conferences during my tenure as a counselor during the last ten years that I taught.

Students' were more innocent about adult things probably due to the television, movies, and technology in general.  That is not to say that students were drinking beer, partying, and making out.  It seemed to be a less dangerous time.

The course work in the public school has advanced. The kinesthetic aspect of teaching, certainly in the lower grades, has made a big difference for slower achievers. Students' certainly know a lot more; however, I think that they are more easily distracted and have to be more entertained than in the past.

One last area, the students' home lives are more unstable than in the past.  Of course, there have always been some single parent homes, but nothing as in the lives' of children today.  That makes a big difference in the educational system.

When I stopped teaching in 2010, my classroom looked quite different than the one in 1968.

  • 2010's Classroom: computer, printer, video machine, white board, dictionaries, thesauruses, classroom telephone, intercom.  Yes, education has changed.
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All of these are excellent points. One other area in which I think schools have not changed is that most still broadly adhere to the "factory model" or education, one which has a school day with a standardized, set beginning and end punctuated with courses of one length or another and a short lunch break. Most schools even have bells to shuffle students along. There are some changes in this area--I know of schools that have moved to flexible scheduling, and many that offer online courses to some students or classes in tandem with area colleges or community colleges, but really the actual school day is structured pretty much the way it has been for most of the century. Another point would be that most schools still go by a traditional school calendar with a long summer break.

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Another major difference is that students with learning disabilities are supposed to be mainstreamed as much as possible.  When I was a child, there was a classroom in the basement for students with learning disabilities, a room that very much looked like it was in the basement.  The students were referred to as mentally retarded, although, looking back, I do not think that mental retardation would have been a diagnosis for most of them.  I think this is a great improvement in the educational system.  Mainstreaming is more work for teachers, to be sure, and sufficient resources are often not available, but given the history of the treatment of those with learning disabilities, this is certainly a great deal better than stuffing children away in the basement. 

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In general schools are not much different from the way they were before in terms of teaching methods.  There are ways the schools are different though.

Schools are more diverse.  The population of the country has shifted, and there are more minorities and English learners.  This is even true in the last two decades.

Fueled by the latest wave of immigration, enrollment of Hispanic and Asian students in American schools has increased by more than 5 million since the 1990s. (New York Times, see first link)

This means schools are not as homogenous as they were before, and teachers have to make modifications for a changing population. 

Schools have more requirements to meet.  In the last couple of decades, the standards and accountability movement, No Child Left Behind and Common Core have increased the requirements schools have been required to meet legally, meaning that the school curriculum is more homogenous, even as the school populations are more diverse.

While the Common Core State Standards share many features and concepts with existing standards, the new standards also represent a substantial departure from current practice in a number of respects.  (NPR, see second link)

Common Core (and No Child Left Behind before it) means that all schools have to have common practices and standards.

New technology has changed some classroom practices dramatically—by eliminating classrooms.  One big trend is online education, and not just in colleges.  The technology did not even exist a hundred years ago.  Now, kids sometimes sit in classrooms in front of computers, or sit at home.

The top reasons why school districts make online learning opportunities available to their students is to provide course not otherwise available at their schools, and providing opportunities for students to recover course credits from classes missed or failed.

This trend is likely only going to increase, as schools try to recoup budget losses.  More and more schools are putting a 100 kids in a study-hall like environment in front of online teacher-less classes.

School budgets are being chopped, and teachers are being laid off.  This is the most disturbing recent trend.  After years of lowering class sizes, now they are getting bigger at alarming rates, and more teachers are losing their jobs.  The most disturbing part of this trend is what is being cut.

The last items on students' "should-cut" lists, starting from the bottom, are teachers, administrators, "other," guidance counselors and sports -- all items that schools have shown to most commonly choose to cut first.

Students, parents, and teachers seem to be on the same page.  Do not cut teachers’ jobs!  Yet when budgets are cut, layoffs are the first announcement.  This affects student learning more than anything else.

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There are, however, real differences in the educational system when compared to the system of a century ago. 

One of the most important changes is that we are less reliant on rote learning today.  We are more likely to inform our teaching with such things as Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  We try to make learning more hands-on rather than having students simply sit, listen, and memorize.

A second very important difference in the United States is that relatively good education has become more widely available.  There is no more official segregation of schools.  Teachers are, for all their faults, better trained than they once were.  Even most rural areas have decent schools.

The system has many problems, but it is better than it was 100 years ago.

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Unfortunately, in many places the educational process is virtually unchanged in the 21st century compared to the 19th and 20th centuries.  My school district is undergoing a transformation from a teaching to a learning platform to address this issue, and I was lucky enough to be a part of a presentation that is relates to this discussion.

It showed a classroom in 1900 with students sitting in rows being taught by a teacher at the front of a room, and then an old model T Ford driving on a road.  The presentation went through each decade and continually showed students from each decade sitting rows being taught by teachers at the front of the room while the world around them experienced exponential change from race cars, to airplanes, to space shuttles.  The point was that education needs to change in the ways that the world around us has. 

Of course, there are some big differences and the static nature of education isn't one hundred percent uniform, but unfortunately the premise of that presentation rang very true to me as I see what is happening in many classrooms throughout the nation.

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