"It's all bullsh--!"
When I taught in Mt. Iron, Minnesota early in my career, we had a wonderful female English teacher named Judy. Judy was thoroughly competent,caring, witty, and consistently demonstrated great common sense. One thing I remember about her is that whenever the latest educational fad came along--one of those many "great" ideas that was going to make education great and save the world--this very feminine and articulate woman would almost always respond by saying, "It's all bullsh__!"
When I read Joanne Jacobs post on the Dallas superintendents new reforms, I couldn't help but think of Judy.
If you haven't already read Joanne's post on this, the Dallas superintendent issued an edict which will "require teachers to accept late homework without penalty, ignore homework grades that lower a student’s semester grade and give retests to students who fail."
The superintendent responsible for this stroke of brilliance, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, is understandably concerned about the failure rate in Dallas.
Dr. Hinojosa cited new research that determined ninth-graders who are flunking two or more classes in their first six weeks of high school are almost doomed to become dropouts.
“Our mission is not to fail kids,” he said. “Our mission is to make sure they get it, and we believe that effort creates ability.”
But why are they failing? My experience, and I am confident in saying the experience of most other teachers, is that the great majority of high school kids who fail do so because their effort is miserable.
Dr. Hinrosa citing his research is like sighting research that people who have their wounds cleaned after shooting themselves in the foot are almost doomed to limp.
We need to find ways to get kids to try harder in school and to take their education more seriously. Lowering standards so that anyone can pass with just a minimal effort isn't the answer to our education problems.
Right now, I am reading Restless Giant, James T. Patterson's history of America from 1974-2000. Patterson talks a lot about American education in the book, and especially about the disparities between whites and minorities. In one section that I read today, he says this:
The educational difficulties of black and (to a lesser extent) Latino pupils in America in the 1990s were profoundly demoralizing. Reformers called for a variety of changes: eliminating racially based questions from standardized tests, spending more money per pupil on classroom education and tutoring for minority children, strengthening the hand of principals and superintendents, (emphasis is mine) improving training of teachers, lowering class sizes, raising expectations about what students could accomplish, (obviously Hinrosa doens't buy into that one) and--above all--raising academic standards, as measured by rigorous testing.
There are an awful lot of reform ideas in that paragraph, but as for as I can tell, they haven't had much of an effect. There is one idea, however, that to me, is noticeable in its absence. You'll notice that no one seems to have tried strengthening the hand of teachers in the classrooms.
Maybe it's time we give that one a shot.