Sunday, December 07, 2008

High school reform? Forget the experts!

I was browsing through the blogosphere, and I came upon a U.S. News and World Report piece titled "The Future of High School Reform." The subtitle to the article read, "Education experts voice their ideas at U.S. News's education summit." I thought, "Hey, that looks interesting!" So I read the entire article...And didn't find one worthwhile thing.

Oh, the wizards in the discussion talked about "one-size fits all," standards, charter schools, the need for better teachers, and a lot of pie-in-the-sky theory, but there was not one thing that any of them said that indicated to me that any of them had any idea about what the real problems are in American education. When talking about low achievement, not one word about discipline and not one word about student effort. Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows that those are the things that matter more than anything else, but not one word about them. NOT ONE! I'd love to give you a quote from the article, but there wasn't anything worth quoting. How a group of people who are supposedly so knowledgeable about a subject that I am so interested in could manage to bore me the way they did is amazing. What is depressing is that these are the people who public officials turn to when making policy. Honestly, I don't think they have a clue.

There was one idea I ran into in my browsing that was at least worth discussing, and that came in this seemingly off-hand remark by Joanne Jacobs:
I think public schools can enforce values too. Let kids who don’t want to behave go to the Socialization Center, where they can watch movies and play video games to prepare for a lifetime of unemployment. Those who wish to learn can attend safe, orderly schools devoted to that purpose. Most kids don’t want to be losers. They’d choose a real school, if one was available.

I like the concept of separating the wheat from the chaff, but I'm afraid that among some groups of kids, Joanne is overly optimistic about how few kids would choose to go off to the "Socialization Center."

Our hockey season began on November 17th, and I am reminded that if we really want to improve high school education in America, all we have to do is look at high school athletics. That is where the effort to achieve excellence takes place in American education. There are three major differences between high school athletics and the classroom:

1. The kids who take part in athletics choose to be there.
2. No one has "the right" to be on a team. If a player refuses to conform, the coach can dismiss them. (Since our players know this is the case, we rarely have to do it. We have dismissed a total of two players in the twenty years I've been at Warroad.)
3. Coaches can easily be fired if the administration is unhappy with them.

I am not saying that we have to run our classrooms exactly like our athletic teams, but I truly believe that anything we need to improve high school education in America is contained in the three points above.


Blogger Mrs. C said...

Ok, for reviewing an article with so little merit, you've left me with a few thinking points:

Student effort and achievement have to be the result of innate ability, parental involvement and socialization. I find with your student athletic analogy that the parents HAVE to be involved with sports (or music, or whatever). They HAVE to get them to the concerts and practices or the kid is off the team. Sometimes I think that these extracurriculars in reality are NOT open to children with uninvolved parents, or kids whose parents can't afford the gear required. Too many strikes against the kid. For what it's worth, I'll throw that out.

On socialization, I find it ironic that that's one of the main "arguments" against homeschooling. You've been teaching teens long enough... you know that socialization would be one of the main reasons cited for parents to homeschool their kids...!

But socialization can be good, bad, or just be. I'm not sure it's a teacher or administrator problem alone. I think structuring an impressionable teen's day so that he is in an environment with 30 other teens and one adult at all times leads to some problems. I mean, even large families don't usually run into numbers like that. No fair teachers saying WOW I must be busy when they have 30 kids to handle at a time, you know? And I tell 'em so. :]

I see now in the high school level some of what you're talking about. My autistic son G is in more the "socialization center," though yes, they do teach him... but not nearly so rigorously as my other son Patrick who is in "gifted" or advanced classes. It's almost as though they go to two different schools in the same building.

Actually, I think this is ok, so long as that separation between advanced, regular, and special ed classes isn't the result of one specific incident, test or bad grade.

Hope to hear more from you after hockey season! G is doing wrestling himself, which makes me a bit nervous. I don't know if I will be able to go see him actually do his thing. Seeing those other kids... I don't know if I'd start yelling things like, "Don't hurt him! Be nice!" :]

PS. There is a *girl* on the team, and apparently she kicks butt. Do you have a mixed team?

12/07/2008 6:33 AM  
Blogger TT said...

I agree with your comments about student responsibility. I'm working in a charter school right now; our 'new' administration continually spouts that we are a 'student centered' school, which is fine, except that they are so busy meeting with teachers to tell us what is wrong with our instruction, lessons, materials, whatever, that they have no time to meet with students who don't show up, do nothing, and disrupt learning.

I find the whole experience surreal. I keep wanting to ask, if we are so student centered, why are you beating up your teachers?

It's the most demoralizing atmosphere I've ever worked in - our state test results recently came back and the scores were abysmal. The powers that be don't seem to get that if students DO nothing, they LEARN nothing. (Oh, but if I planned the 'perfect, most engaging lesson EVER' students would DO something, so they don't need to meet with students about not doing anything, I just need to fix my lesson). It's a vicious circle.

I'm leaving as soon as possible.

12/07/2008 8:50 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., I want to make it clear that even though I promote the idea of schools being less tolerant of bad behavior and poor effort, I also believe in making accomodations for kids with special needs. But I still think we should be as demanding as possible for those kids, too. We need to demand that they do as well as they can, and that they do everything in their power to deal with their disabilities. If we don't do that, I think we're doing them a disservice.

TT, I agree with you completely. Going back to my sports analogy, the best coaches I've seen are those that are the most demanding of their players. Players know that they are going to have to give their best effort, and if they disrupt the team, it won't be tolerated. Just imagine if we were able to do the same thing in our classrooms.

12/07/2008 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Amy P. said...

I thought of your blog last week when my issue of TIME came in the mail. On the cover is Supt. of Washington, DC schools, Michelle Rhee. On the cover it says, I kid you not, "Her battle against bad teachers has earned her admirers and enemies---and could transform public education." She is holding a broom! To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. She is basically firing teachers and principals and asking the students what's wrong with their school, what needs to improve. After the classes that I had last year, I would guess that the teachers in D.C. are tired and burnt out from dealing with disruptive, violent, profane and unmotivated students. Student behavior was not addressed in the article however.

12/08/2008 6:48 PM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

A web address for the Time article and some thoughts from Dennis can be found in the comments to the previous post, "Please forgive my lack of production."

12/09/2008 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/09/2008 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the book, "The Supreme Court and Whistleblowers: Teachers and Other Public Employees" available on and at Barnes and Nobles.

1/12/2009 4:47 PM  

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