A good post exploring various educational wastage:
1. A comment about elementary math classes:
In the last few months, I visited over a dozen elementary schools. Mostly I visited kindergartens, but whenever possible, I visited the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades as well.
Over and over I saw schools where “math class” was the same template: children doing activities from Everyday Math on their own in chaotic, loud classrooms where students didn’t have individual desks but had to sit at group tables (sometimes putting up their books and folders to act as little cubicle walls) while they waited for a teacher or an aide to interact with them. Uniformly, I saw half a dozen kids doing nothing at all in those times; another half a dozen chatting or playing but obviously not doing anything, and a precious few trying to block out the stimulus. Some read cheap fiction books.
No one could have learned anything in such a room even before you find out that the task at hand is some bizarre manipulative task in Everyday Math that had no goal or explained purpose anyway.
. . .
3. This 2006 article (Richard Elmore, “Three Thousand Missing Hours,” Harvard Education Letter):
One of the most remarkable things about American classrooms is how little real teaching goes on there.Over the past five years or so, I have spent at least three or four days a month in schools studying the relationship between classroom practice and school organization. I observe classrooms at all levels—primary, middle, and secondary grades—and in all subjects. One of the most striking patterns to emerge is that teachers spend a great deal of classroom time getting ready to teach, reviewing and reaching things that have already been taught, giving instructions to students, overseeing student seatwork, orchestrating administrative tasks, listening to announcements on the intercom, or presiding over dead air — and relatively little time actually teaching new content.
When my fellow researchers and I code our observations for teaching new content, it is not unusual to find that it occupies somewhere between zero and 40 percent of scheduled instructional time.
[He describes videos of American and Japanese lessons.] When American educators watch these two lessons they are shocked by the difference. Students in the Japanese lesson are fully engaged in new content for the entire class, while in the American lesson it is difficult to discern what the new content actually is, much less how much time is dedicated to it.
4. My son is in what seems to be a well-regarded public middle school. In the past few weeks, here are the assignments I’ve seen him working on at home: making a video about Edwin Hubble (it had very little information about Hubble in it, but the teacher said his was one of the best videos in the class); making a fake Facebook page about Edwin Hubble (same); and writing up a description of a fake dinosaur that he had imagined. I’m not too worried about his science knowledge (when he was 9, he demanded that I subscribe to Scientific American for him to read), but I’m not confident that the school is doing as much as it could to instill knowledge in its students.