Sports or Tech - Embracing a Mantle of Mediocrity?

Is failure an option for American students?

A 14 year old attending Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas, I remember struggling with geometry during my sophmore year. In a confrontation that became legend in my household, my father challenged the principal at the time--Brother Rudy--to sell a football helmet (just one!) to pay for math tutoring for myself and other kids who were struggling. My father was incensed that the school spent so much for it's sports program (e.g. football) and nothing to pay for tutoring to help me improve my math scores (I did eventually get a tutor but privately funded).

That story came to mind when I read Dr. Scott McLeod's blog entry earlier this morning, Atheletics or laptops? He writes:
This post is not about knocking P-12 athletic programs. But budgets are pretty tight right now and any financial expenditure reflects decisions about priorities. So in the interest of fostering some conversation …
Is it time to abolish atheletics' spending in schools, focus precious funding on preparing students to be TOP at the international level?

Every other day--especially in light of the report announcing China at the Top of International Education Rankings in Reading, Math and Science scores--we are challenged as educators to improve student achievement, to prepare against the competition offered by China and other countries.
report out today, "Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context," shows the U.S. now ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries...While OECD countries such as Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand continue to outpace the U.S. in reading, science and math, all eyes are on China.
While some argue that competition, winning needs to be redefined, the truth is that other countries ARE redefining it already...and the United States is perceived as not keeping up. Given money for investment, where would you put that creative class of students? And what are the benefits to the country that has that creativity on tap?

While we all may disagree with the reasons why America is where it's at, does focusing on sports to the detriment of academics, or technology really make a difference in the math and science classroom? As I hear so many technologists parroting the perspective that it's about the learning, not the technology, I have to ask, "If it's about the learning, not the tech, then why aren't our kids doing awesome at learning?"

This brings one to the sad conclusion that technology IS irrelevant to high student achievement, that like one Mathematics Director I knew in one school district, we need to lay aside our love of all things technological and embrace academic programs that make students competitive...as the Chinese, the Asians, the New Zealanders, the Finnish define it, not as we, as American educators, might hope to define "winning."

Or, will we take the cynical route and challenge the idea that these reports are merely another way of dismantling a top-notch American school system because it doesn't suit the political aspirations of the current administration? Are American educators embracing a "mantle of mediocrity," as Arne Duncan points out, when they spend money, time, effort on anything--gifted and talented education, school libraries, educational technology--when they take their eye off the tableau of the testing trinity--Math, Science and Reading?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

So many people are talking about the impact of the PISA 2009 - that it's going to result in a "Sputnik-like" reform of the American educational system. I think it comes down to examining what we value and how we prioritize the time spent by American students. It makes me think back to the 2 Million Minutes documentary. The students in other countries who populate the top PISA standings spent more time learning, in some cases 30% more time than their American counterparts. The public perception of the value of education is also very different. Having traveled extensively throughout Europe and collaborated with classes in South Korea, I have observed that difference. I offer no possible solution. Does it require a culture shift in America? Do we need to re-value education? Do we need to lengthen the school day / school year? Do we need to work with families and communities to implement more rigorous early learning programs and impose greater discipline in our schools?

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