October 18, 2023
Divya Reddy, an engineering manager at an aerospace company and a mother of two children, shares her personal experience with the elementary education system in Texas, USA. Like any dedicated parent, Divya wishes for her kids to be enthusiastic about attending school and demonstrating willingness to learn.
Divya’s older child is in fifth grade, while her younger one is in second grade. She observed that the elementary school system in the United States, particularly in Texas, is quite distinct from her own education in Bangalore, India. In Texas, there are various types of schools, including public schools, charter schools, and magnet schools that focus on academics and STEM education. Every child has the right to a free public education. A parent may enroll the child in school in the district in which he or she lives. Public schools are conveniently situated in local neighbourhoods with bus facility, reducing the burden on parents for drop-off and pick-up. Admission to charter or magnet schools is determined through a lottery system and they may not necessarily be located close to one’s residence.
In contrast to the common practice of evaluating parents before admitting a child in India, there is no such assessment in the United States. Parents are required to complete application forms and provide necessary documents online or in person, making the admissions process relatively straightforward. Moreover, there is a similarity in the curriculum across different states in the USA to facilitate children’s adjustment when parents relocate from one state to another. Divya’s first child smoothly transitioned from a public school in Iowa to one in Texas in between the academic year.
The student-to-teacher ratio in public schools is strictly maintained to ensure all the students in the class can get equal attention from the teacher. Lower grades have a smaller number of students per class, and it may increase as kids become more independent and move to higher grades. Typically in elementary schools there are about 20-22 kids in a class with one teacher. They also have subject-specific teachers for Math, Reading and Writing, Social Studies, Science, Art, Music and PE and the students rotate between various classes throughout the school day. Parents are encouraged to volunteer at schools to assist the teachers in various activities as needed.
A significant difference Divya noticed compared to her own schooling is that her children do not bring textbooks home. Instead, they receive worksheets few times a week throughout the year. These assignments usually take about 10-15 minutes to complete. In preparation for the upcoming minor or major grade tests, teachers spend sufficient time in the school revising the concepts taught in class during the prior week. Teachers send parents a weekly newsletter outlining their children’s activities for the upcoming week, highlighting opportunities for parental involvement. Parents have the option to monitor their children’s readiness for spelling tests, minor or major grade tests and keep track of assignments, or homework due dates. They can also initiate discussions and address any learning gaps if they wish anytime during the year or at spring or fall parent teacher conferences. To encourage and motivate students, teachers enable a reward system where students earn virtual currency for completing assignments and participating in activities and allow them to spend those rewards on the things they like the most. This also helps in encouraging children to stay focused and complete their assignments in a timely manner.
The school system appears to be less stressful, with no formal exams until the third grade. Instead, regular assessments, both paper-based and online, are conducted. State-level exams commence in the third grade, and Divya’s older child has had end-of-year exams twice so far. Divya was pleasantly surprised that there is no expectation for parents to prepare their children for tests. Instead, teachers emphasize the importance of ensuring children have a good dinner, proper sleep, and a nutritious breakfast before tests, allowing for a stress-free atmosphere at home, which is a boon for working parents.
In contrast to timed assessments, public schools in the United States provide elementary school students with an entire school day to complete tests. Those who finish early engage in silent reading, while others continue working on their tests. Breaks for recess and lunch are provided between tests, creating a comfortable and stress-free testing environment for children. Divya believes this approach is logical, especially during the formative years when children are exploring and learning at their own pace.
Another notable difference Divya found was regarding grades and ranks. Public schools in the United States do not publicly post grades or discuss about them in class. Instead, they provide an online portal accessible to individual parents via a unique ID. Results are available from the third grade onwards, and parents and teachers maintain ongoing communication throughout the year to address concerns and help students meet expectations. The emphasis is more on learning and reenforcing the knowledge through fun activities that kids will associate easily and remember than judging the knowledge gained by grades.
Divya is very thankful and is pleased by the American elementary education system, which she finds to be nurturing a passion for learning, exploration, and problem-solving in children, with an emphasis on individualized development and learning at their own pace.
Santosh Avvannavar, CEO at QtSTEAM & Mentor QtPi Robotics