It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about the state of our public education system. Part of the reason is my belief that, on the whole, the system is borked, maybe no irrevocably broken but well on its way. Gone are the days when teachers have the freedom to adjust curriculum on the fly to meet the needs of their students. Gone are the days when teachers could comfort kids for falling and skinning their knees on the playground. Instead we have teaching to the test, curricula that is geared to — at most — a common middle ground and teachers who are afraid to touch a student because they can be charged with sexual harassment. Heck, for that matter students face the same problem. I’m sure we all know, or have heard of, kindergartners who have been suspended for sexually assaulting a classmate by kissing her cheek. And I won’t even go into the suspensions for making a sign with your fingers that could be interpreted as a gun, even if it isn’t, or chewing around the edges of your Poptart so it resembles a gun.
A couple of years ago, one of the local districts caused an uproar when two things occurred. The first was learning that it had been putting students into AP classes that didn’t meet the requirements. The reason this was done was financial. Schools get more money from the state if they have higher AP enrollment, and that money increases based on the number of students who take and pass the AP exams at the end of the year. The reason anyone even looked at the number of AP students in the district was because the district had a reputation of not being strong on academics. So, when suddenly all these AP enrollments hit the books, someone realize something might be afoot.
Not long after that, the district also announced a change in its grading program. Homework was no longer required to be completed. In fact, teachers were urged not to give homework. The reasoning was that there was more than enough time in class to teach and let the kids do the work there. But that’s not all. Students would be able to take tests over as many times as they wanted. There was more, but those two items spoke volumes to me. The first showed that the administrators and school board had no idea what happens in a classroom. Nor did they really care what their students were learning as long as they managed to pass the state mandated tests — tests that have a big impact on how much money the district receives the following year.
The second, in a lot of ways, was more troubling. By letting students take tests over and over again, there was no holding them to standards. There was no holding them responsible for their actions — or inactions. Don’t like your grade, take it over. Didn’t feel like studying before the test? Don’t worry, you can take the test over. No harm and no foul.
Except there is harm in something like this. The first level of harm is that it doesn’t let the teacher fully move on because he has to keep track of what tests might still be taken over during the course of the semester. He can’t repeat the course material for one student. The curriculum doesn’t allow it. But he has to keep drawing up a test for that particular learning unit until the student is satisfied.
The real harm, however, is to the student. The student is once again being told that there aren’t consequences to his actions and that he isn’t going to be held to a schedule. So, what happens when that student gets to college and suddenly he not only has to turn his work in on time but he has one, maybe two tests for the entire semester that make up the bulk of the grade AND HE CAN’T TAKE THEM OVER? How does this feel-good schooling in high school look now?
So, what brought this back to my attention was an article I saw in the Dallas Morning News a few minutes ago. The Denton ISD was presented a plan that would fundamentally change the grading system for the district. I read the article and then downloaded the FAQs for parents and the ranting began.
Here are some basics:
Zeros will not be given for work not turned in until the end of the term. Nor will zeros be given for incomplete work. Why? Because there is an assumption the students will turn the work in eventually.
What? Have they lost their minds? Sure, some students may turn the work in late. But a number of them won’t. They will forget about it. Now, I guess, teachers have to move even further into the babysitter role than teacher role because they will have to remind students again and again and again to turn in their work. More than that, if the student isn’t doing the work in a timely fashion, how in the hell are you to know if they understand it enough to move onto the next section?
Students can retake tests throughout the term. The caveat on this is that they must either ask for help, take part in tutoring, etc.
Hmm, so when is this tutoring to take place? Are the teachers going to be paid extra for it or does it take place during class time? Oh, then what about the teaching that is supposed to happen during the 90 minutes of the class, or the 60 minutes depending on district?
The reason for this is, according to those who drew up the plan, that students learn at different rates. So testing should reflect how well they learn the subject, not how fast they learn it.
Hmm, back in the dark ages when I was in school, this was solved by putting students into classes that were geared for their learning styles and speeds. But we can’t do that now because it might hurt someone’s feelings or give someone an inferiority complex. So, instead, we add yet another obstacle to their succeeding not only at college but at life.
When are educators going to remember that part of the process is to prepare students for life outside of public school? I don’t know of many jobs where you can consistently fail to finish an assignment by the deadline and not face consequences — like being fired. Most colleges require students to turn in their work, on time or take a penalty. But we aren’t preparing our kids for this. Instead, we are raising yet another generation of privileged folks who don’t think about the consequences of their actions.
I don’t often say that the old ways were better but, in this case, I think they were.