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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The problem with education......is not education


Today my mom stayed with G (while M napped) so that I could plant flowers at N's elementary school.  When N was in kindergarten, her teacher Mrs. A created a Reading Garden with the class using money that she got from a grant.  They made colorful art for the wall and planted rose bushes and liriope and ornamental grasses.  I have made it my goal to keep the garden maintained as best I can given my time limitations.  I weed it and today planted flowers that I moved from my own garden.  I don't do this so someone will give me a pat on the back.  I do it because I think Mrs. A's great idea should be maintained.  

I made the mistake of parking where the car rider line is.  I began working around 2:30, and by 3:05 my car was trapped in a long line of parents and grandparents sitting in their cars waiting for the students to be dismissed----at 3:50.  And it occurred to me that if every single one of them who sit in their cars for 35+ minutes every day would get out of their cars and go into the school and volunteer in a classroom, every single solitary kid in that school would be at or above grade level.  If every single afternoon, 30+ volunteers worked with underperforming students for 35-40 minutes, there would be no children left behind.  

Because I wasn't about to waste a good 30 minutes sitting in my car doing nothing, I proceeded to walk into the school and assist N's teacher in the classroom.  

This weekend D and I had dinner with a colleague of D's and his wife, who is a teacher.  She and I talked a bit about education issues, and as I do with virtually every teacher I know, we eventually got around to discussing reforms.  


Education reform isn't really about reforming education.  It is a futile attempt to reform inadequate or misguided or under-informed or completely shitty parenting.  Most kids who come from stable homes, who are not poor, who have parents who value education, who are disciplined in a consistent manner, who are read to consistently from the time they are infants, whose parents guide them to be responsible and have a strong work ethic and whose parents stay in contact with the teachers.....most of these kids do fine in school.  They read at grade level.  They do ok on standardized tests.  Sure, there are those odd-ball kids who, despite their parents being spectacular, end up being wastoids, but in most cases, this doesn't happen.

By this I am not suggesting that poor parents suck or parents with only a high school education can't be awesome parents.  I taught plenty of upper middle class kids whose well-educated parents kept them overextended in extracurricular activities or who allowed their kid to do nothing in class because they didn't want to be the "bad guy" parent or who actually did their child's work because they thought I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between what an 11-year-old and a 40-year-old can do and they wanted to ensure their kid got an "A."

So much of what a kid does in school and takes from school has absolutely NOTHING to do with what actually happens daily in the classroom.

I'll admit I am out of the loop on standardized tests, but the premise of many of them has always left me a bit puzzled.  The goal is that each year children should become increasingly proficient in reading, math, writing, science.  While this sounds good on paper, the reality is that it is kinda dumb to compare what Second Grade Class 2011 knows with what Second Grade Class 2012 knows....because there are too many variables, like all the kids being completely different children.  I have never understood the real value of seeing whether an entire group of children's math skills is better or worse than an entirely different group of children's math skills, especially if Second Grade Class 2011 has a large percentage of  parents who work with their kids and Second Grade Class 2012 has a large percentage of kids whose parents do nothing to support what happens in the classroom.  What do these tests really show us about what the teachers are teaching?

Within the same school, there are so many things that can change over the course of a year.  Last year, the first graders at my daughter's school were switched (by decree of the district) mid-year on how to be instructed in math.  The teacher said my daughter's scores weren't very good on the first test after the switch because the teachers were having to chuck everything they'd been doing with something brand new.  Mid-year.  Someone somewhere would blame the teacher for this poor score or perhaps think my daughter wasn't proficient in math.

The public education system is by no means perfect; it needs to be constantly analyzed and made more efficient.  It needs to be supported and adequately funded.  Teachers need to be well-trained and eager to work with students.

But unless or until society can find a way to hold parents accountable for what they do and don't do in terms of educating their kids and meeting all of their basic physical, emotional, and social needs, people will continue to legislate education reform and beat that dead horse.

3 comments:

Giselle said...

Amen!

Shelby said...

I totally agree with you here! I have always said that a lot of parents are failing their kids these days. It's not just in the education sense but overall. So many kids these days are brats and it's the fault of the parents. Being a parent is tough and if you aren't willing and ready to do all that it takes to ensure that your child is well taken care of then you should not have children. I also thing that too many kids are overextended. Why do elementary age children need to play on a soccer team that requires they attend two weekly practices as well as a game on the weekend? When I was a child we didn't even have organized sports until middle school. We simply played soccer/football/etc... with our friends in our yards!

One of the reasons I began homeschooling my children is because of Annie's experience in her public school. The classroom had 27 students with one teacher. Yes, she had an aide but the aide was there to help with a special needs child, so she was basically on her own. I am sorry but one person cannot teach that many children. If a parent or two had volunteered to help out it would have been much better. Maybe that parent could have spent time reading with a child who needed a bit of extra help or practiced spelling words with a child that just wasn't getting it. It would have made the teacher's job a lot easier. At the time, I was taking care of three children and pregnant with my fourth and I still managed to get into the classroom to help out! So, the other stay at home parents could certainly have given a bit of their time.

Anyway.... I could go on and on. I just wanted to tell you that I totally agree with you. :)

Keri said...

Hot button topic! :-)

Several points:

1) I agree - parental involvement makes a monumental difference in a child's education. Common sense, observation, and numerous studies all support that statement.

2) The reason increased parental involvement makes a difference is because more children are then receiving (from their parents) individualized help when they need it, whether through help with homework or the hiring of a tutor when necessary. Also, fewer bright children slip through the crack of mediocrity due to their own laziness or lack of the teacher's ability (time/energy/knowlewdge) to challenge them sufficiently.

3) It is 100% absurd to expect 27 kids in a classroom to all learn in the same way - yet that's what is expected in a typical classroom (public OR private). And as a former teacher, you know that it's impossible
to truly differentiate as needed for 27 (or 90) students. That's where the parent volunteers that you mentioned would come in quite handy, helping to clarify assignments and guide students along in the ways that make sense to their individual brains.

4) I had never thought about the absurdity of comparing Mrs. X's students from this year to Mrs. X's students from last year....that really is quite pointless, isn't it?

5) Another big part of the problem (related to #3) is that generally speaking, schools teach in a style geared for left-brain, auditory/verbal learners. That means that kids who learn visually/kinesthetically sit there confused much of the time, taking in about 10% of what is taught. And then to complicate matters, most assessments are also geared for the auditory/verbal learners, which means that the right-brained kids fall behind both on the intake and the output side of things.

5) More money is not necessarily the answer. Some of the poorest-performing school districts in the country are also the best-funded.

6) In my ideal world, every child would be homeschooled, thereby eliminating this whole conversation. :-)

7) Since this isn't the least bit realistic, my next favorite idea is charter schools. Charter schools allow for more creative ideas to be implemented, for less bureaucratic B.S. to be involved, for more kids to find their niches in the system, and for competition between schools to raise everyone's respective games, so-to-speak.

Whew. I think I'm done...now I'm stepping down from my soapbox.

On a very related note, if you have any free time, you should Google "New Orleans schools after Hurrican Katrina" and read some of the articles or watch some of the videos that come up. I saw a story about it a couple weeks ago, and it was truly inspiring, the way they revolutionized their terrible school system after Katrina.