I am involved in a grant project at my new school which aims to answer this very question about study skills, self-efficacy and wellbeing. Will share this with the team!

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Lots of great points in this article. In my state funding for text books has been cut drastically. I wonder how much this has impacted student readiness for college.

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I just want to make a couple of comments. First, the results of the 2022 ACT test are different and more nuanced than is generally recognized:


Second, as a Biological Psychologist, and lifelong teacher (Special Ed, high school, and University Psychology and Biology departments), I want to point out that we've understood how to teach since Socrates walked down the beach with Meno. None of it is a mystery, and none of the "rediscovered" "cognitive psychology based strategies" are new. In their current form they date back at least to the end of the 19th century.

As I've watched the educational system deteriorate over the last several decades, I have little hope that it will be revived except in small enclaves of unusually gifted teachers who don't use rigid lesson plans, don't mistake rubrics for knowing how to teach, and don't let students move on until they've actually learn the material.

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The described strategies make sense, but apparently these approaches weren't used in prior generations and students learned more - what has changed?

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Dec 7, 2022·edited Dec 7, 2022

Erm, yes those approaches were used in prior generations. (Or were you being sarcastic with the "in prior generations people weren't stupid and lazy like they are now" theme?)

A *lot* has changed, by the way... there are rather many articles describing how budgets have been cut for education and teachers have to do rather many jobs that they didn't have to do in prior generations. Snork -- this one just landed in my feed (because it takes forever to navigate substack): https://www.epi.org/press/new-report-shows-the-national-teacher-shortage-has-only-gotten-worse-since-the-pandemic/

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I wasn’t implying sarcasm - genuinely wondering what has changed and appreciate your perspective.

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Glad to hear that :) People have been reciting things over and over until they remember them for rather a while... and sometimes even having fun figuring out what they mean and making connections and inventing things... our public education systems have been so underfunded that they've pretty much stopped pretending to be about more than survival.

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If I can chime in: I think that the instructional methods people often used in the past have now been validated by cognitive science research. People used them in the past, I think, because they seemed like common sense -- and they often worked.

I think their decline isn't just due to lack of funding. The prevailing ideology in schools of education has long been opposed to, e.g., having kids memorize anything -- and that ideology generally goes against approaches that align not only with common sense but also, now, with cognitive science. There's still a strong reaction out there in the world of education to the harsh methods of 19th-century schoolmasters -- something no one is trying to bring back. But mention getting students to absorb factual information, and people start thinking of, you know, Ichabod Crane.

So I think it's more a question of philosophy or ideology than funding. We spend something like $800 billion a year on K-12 education. Schools could be a lot more effective with that money, or even less money, if they aligned their approaches to cognitive science. Other countries that spend less per student actually do a better job, at least as measured by international tests.

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Some of it was built into the teaching system of old. For example, we had math textbooks. It sounds crazy, but many students don’t nowadays. The proffered justification is “learning styles,” which is pseudoscience. So now students’ extraneous cognitive load is needlessly higher, making learning harder.

And the textbooks had answers to the odd-numbered problems. Thus, you could check your understanding before trying the even-numbered problems. This approach increases germane cognitive load in a manageable way, which fosters learning.

The textbooks also had zillions of drill problems or finger exercises. By doing them, we automated the procedural skills needed to solve harder problems with no fixed procedure. Students now, however, do almost no drill because it is considered oppressive etc. Instead they are told that they are already mathematicians and asked to think like one.

My daughter, when we lived in Cambridge, would routinely have to spend a whole math period discussing in a group questions like “How is area defined?” (6th grade). They took 2 months to get to the formula for the area of a triangle. It was a parody of learning.

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