The landscape of millennial education is vastly different from any that has come before. Changes in technology and lawmaking have combined for an ever-shifting educational experience.
With an interconnected world, how has this changed how millennials learn?
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was a 2002 U.S. Act of Congress which set the ambitious goal of having every student in every school in America perform at state standards on tests by a certain point.
NCLB came under criticism soon after proposal for its high-stakes testing, meaning that schools which failed to meet standards faced cut funding or potential closure. Additionally, this meant that instructors are more prone to “teaching to exam,” conducting their classes in a manner designed to enable test-passing and not ensuring that students actually knew the material.
The allotted time has passed, and only the Asian and Caucasian ethnic groups have surpassed that standard in mathematics as of 2013, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Hispanic and black groups lag behind significantly.
Andrew Ho said, in a 2014 NPR article, that the goal was designed to appeal to school faculty and the public, but disguised problems with its focus. He stated that the law focused on consequences for failures to meet the goal, as opposed to encouraging for better results.
“I’ve called proficiency a ‘weasel word,’” Ho said, as quoted in the NPR article, “It inspires consensus where there really is none.”
“Thirteen years of intense focus on test-score improvement has yielded few if any benefits,” said 2015 National Education Policy Center press release, summarizing Kevin G. Welner and William J. Mathis, “Yet negative, unintended consequences have continued to mount — in the form of narrowed and less engaging curriculum, constrained instruction and deprofessionalized teachers and teaching,”
There is also debate over whether any increases could be conclusively attributed to NCLB. While there has been general improvement in Reading and Mathematics, most increases fall in line with prior trends.
“Test scores can be increased in lots of different ways, some of which focus on real learning but many of which do not,” Mathis said. “An incremental increase in reading or math scores means almost nothing, particularly if children’s engagement is decreased if the focus of schooling as a whole shifts from learning to testing.”
The 100 percent proficiency requirement is considered by many educational experts to be unrealistic, disadvantaging over- and underachievers by its tendency to focus on just-below-average students.
Disability exemptions for the standards led to expansion of disability qualifications to avoid penalties. In other words, it could be simpler to label a student as disabled, as opposed to the school suffering because of an “underachiever.”
States were allowed to set their own standards on the definition of proficiency, undercutting the intended goal of standardization of education. This approach also encouraged fudging results or outright cheating by schools to avoid said penalties for failure. Schools had it within their ability to redefine proficiency to fit their classes, rather than working hard to bring classes up.
NCLB was dismantled under President Obama’s Administration, culminating in December 2015, when what remained was turned into the Every Student Succeeds Act. This downsized federal influence in schools, leaving states with educational accountability. The ubiquitous standardized testing of NCLB remains in effect.
The Common Core States Standard Initiative guides what levels primary education students should attain in English and Mathematics. The initiative was designed to supplant NCLB while maintaining its standardization.
States participated by opting in, with Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia choosing not to.
Common Core also encountered criticism similar to NCLB, along with new points.
Analysts stated that material presented did not match the developmental abilities of children on that grade level, nor did it account for differences in learning styles and rates. Additionally, it has failed to significantly close the gap between the highest and lowest achievers.
Finally, Common Core has been criticized for solving few of NCLB’s issues while dispensing of its main appeal of simplicity. States joining the initiative were incentivized by offers of waiving requirements of NCLB.
This led to a web of interlocking benefits, resulting in a system that many educators considered overcomplicated.
The average classroom has evolved greatly since the Baby Boomers graduated from school halls. Slideshows have replaced overhead projectors, and digital resources have partially supplanted paper textbooks.
Tech is here to stay, and educators consider it in their self-interest to keep up.
Schools have stepped up to adapt to changing technological trends, adopting iPads and disposing of chalkboards in favor of electronic ‘smart’ boards. Online communities of learning have even been fostered, connecting classes with others around the world. Many of technology’s effects are still being studied, with effects unclear.
About 61 percent of adult millennials have attended college, according to a 2012 Decennial Census and American Community Survey.
Millennials major most in Business, Social Sciences, or STEM fields, but at lower rates than past generations. While less overall, they majored in Social Sciences and Humanities more than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, according to the White House release “15 Economic Facts about Millennials.”
Information and Computer Science majors have fallen over the years, which the report called surprising, considering the tech-savvy nature of this generation.
Approximately 9 percent of U.S. undergraduates studied abroad, mostly majors in Business, STEM Fields or Social Sciences, according to a 2014 Open Doors report.
Education abroad has long been said to improve a person’s outlook on the world, fostering a sense of international community and acceptance. This is often not the case, as Calvert Jones found in his study, detailed in the Washington Post.
Jones found that of those who went abroad, most returned without significant feelings of change. In fact, of those surveyed, many came back feeling that they had less in common with their host country than before.
Conversely, despite the decreasing “We-Feeling” of fellowship, as Jones puts it, students returning reported feeling less threatened by ‘other’ countries.
Jones ended his article by promoting “enlightened nationalism,” which embraces differences with pride while disposing of the need to feel threatened by differences.
“In a globalizing world where cross-border contact continues to grow, it is perhaps enlightened nationalism rather than utopian notions of international community that should be encouraged,” wrote Jones in conclusion.
All of this has not added up to a well-rounded student, according to Irwin S. Kirch, of the Center for Global Assessment.
“Despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation,” Kirch said, as quoted in a Thomas B. Fordham Institute Article, “these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology rich environments compared to their international peers.”
The article stated that America’s numeracy and literacy numbers were among the lowest in an Educational Testing Service report, ranking last in the former and above only Spain and Italy in the latter.
Overall, trends indicate that NCLB and similar programs significantly affected how schools teach and test but not how students perform. Educators recommended that improvements to the proposals be made and to work with child experts to ensure that any proposal is fit to the child, and doesn’t force the child to fit it.