By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor
"My science teacher this year doesn’t cover any new material. He teaches us the same things that we learned last year."
"Laura is the best teacher I've ever had. She's strict, but she teaches me the most."
"My teacher always tells us it's 'choice time' because he doesn't feel like teaching us."
This is a sampling of quotes I’ve heard over the years from my children. Common wisdom posits that parents should take what their kids say about school with a grain of salt. What do kids know about education anyway? A lot I’d argue. As soon as my children were old enough to tell me about their day, I've learned as much (or more) about their schooling from them than from their teachers.
Follow the study: listen to the students
Ever since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published reports from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, a multi-year study analyzing the best methods of evaluating teachers, the value of student opinion has been gaining legitimacy. The MET study found that student surveys about teacher practices could predict their future success, concluding that “…preliminary results suggest that the student questionnaires would be a valuable complement to other performance measures.”
No arguments from my soon-to-be high-schooler who recommended that schools survey students upon leaving. “The school allows the teachers to evaluate the students, but not vice versa. If they would let students express their opinion on the performance of their teachers, school could get a better idea if the teachers are really doing a good job or not.”
Won’t kids just say the obvious: praise easy teachers and complain about hard ones who give too much work? A headline-grabbing report from the think tank the Center of American Progress, suggests not.
School isn't challenging enough
Looking at questionnaires administered to elementary and high school students every other year by the National Center for Education Statistics, the analysis found that most students report that they are not being sufficiently challenged. "You might think that the nation’s teenagers are drowning in schoolwork…but we found the opposite: Many students are not being challenged in school."
The report found that "37 percent of fourth- graders say that their math work is too easy. More than a third of high-school seniors report that they hardly ever write about what they read in class. 72 percent of eighth-grade science students say they aren’t being taught engineering and technology." (The conclusion that because kids think work isn't challenging means they aren't drowning in schoolwork doesn’t follow. Any modern corporate serf bored out of their mind and overwhelmed understands this phenomenon.)
What 'Mom, school is boring' really means
American students often tell their parents this during car rides home from soccer or sulkily over dinner. Maybe they don't say it quite this way. We’re more likely to hear: "School is boring" and "I'm not learning anything." When your kids utter these predictable grievances, it might be worth some follow-up questions. "What's boring about it?" "What parts of school do you find exciting?" "What are you learning?" You might get lucky and learn something too.