Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is this somebody's idea of reform?

If you ever say "reform" or "high expectations" to a teacher, and the teacher turns and runs the other way, please excuse him. "Reform" and "high expectations" might sound good to the average layman, but to someone who actually has to teach classes, they often mean that the idiots are back at it again. As I perused the Minneapolis Star/Tribune the other day, I saw that certain reformers in the Minnesota State Legislature are back at it again. Their idea to improve education in our state: force all kids to stay in school until they are at least 18-years-old. It's enough to make a grown man cry.

The subtitle to this article reads, "Proponents say it would signal the state's strong educational expectations." Puh-lease!!! Any classroom teacher can tell you that "high expectations" does not equal kids simply being in school. High expectations should mean that the kids who are in school perform at a reasonable level. Forcing sixteen and seventeen-year-olds who don't want to be there to be in school ends up lowering expectations, not raising them.

A case that illustrates the futility for forcing kids who have no interest in education to stay in school involves a student of ours from a few years ago who got into trouble with the law. The judge in his case made it a condition of his probation that he be in school. Well, the kid came to school alright, but instead of going to class, he just wandered around the hallways. Our principal brought him into his office and asked him, "Aren't you concerned about what this means for your probation?" The kid's answer: "The judge just told me I had to be in school; he didn't say I had to go to class."

I'm sure the judge in that case was well-meaning; he just didn't know any better. A superintendent of schools, however, should. Apparently St. Paul's superintendent of schools, Meria Carstarphen, doesn't. She made a statement for the Star/Tribune article that is so wrong that I have to wonder if she's ever actually been in a high school classroom. She said, "When kids drop out everyone loses."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Students affect other students, and anybody involved in education should understand that. In the great majority of cases, when a student drops out, many of that student's former classmates gain, and some of them might gain greatly. It is depressing that someone with the power of a big city superintendent is ignorant of that.

Every year, my American History classes get better as the year goes along because we get rid of some malcontents. Most of ours end up going to our ALC, but some do actually drop out. Good riddance! The kids that leave have no desire to learn anything, they make no effort, they are often disruptive, and they drag everybody down. There is no question that the effect of their leaving on the education that takes place in my classes is positive.

If someone wants to have a program to emphasize the importance of education to troubled kids, I would be all for it as long as that program emphasized to those kids that they have to perform--they have to be willing to behave, and they have to be willing to try. If someone wants to start a program to encourage kids who have dropped out to decide for themselves to come back to school and take their education seriously, I would be all for it. That would actually make sense.

Dropping out is not a good thing, but it is a symptom and not a cause of educational problems. I'm sorry that dropouts have gotten lost somewhere along the way, but the St. Paul superintendent has it backwards--if we force kids who have no desire to learn to stay in school, everybody will lose.


Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

This is why Obama should be making late night phone calls to you.

2/21/2009 4:20 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Preach it, Dennis!

Though I do have to wonder if people don't think if the kid is in a school building that he's not causing trouble elsewhere. You know, "paid childcare for the really large kids would be helping society" kind of idea. Which of course has nothing to do with education, as you pointed out.

My son G is not "troubled," but autistic. Sometimes that can frankly look like the same thing. His teachers and I would like to see *some* academic progress, but that is NOT our number one goal. It's teaching G how to "advocate" for himself and take breaks when he needs them, before he blows up. To learn to tell someone that he is autistic and because of that he needs this, this and this accomodation is WAYYYY more productive than his trying to look "normal" and well, obviously not succeeding very well when the expectations are too high.

I don't know what the future holds for kids like G, but I do know that schools are able to tailor programs and graduation requirements when they need to. They also have many more "connections" to help G that we could use when he is older that I might not find on my own.

Oh! Another semi-related thing I wanted to relate, is that somehow G has to take the reading part of the MAP test with NO "accomodations" and it still counts against the school when he bombs. He's autistic. You know, language problems? That won't go away no matter how great his teachers are??

Aargh. That would drive me nuts if I were an administrator and every disabled kid counted against me.

2/21/2009 4:25 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., I think you understand this, but for anyone who reads your comment, I just want to make it clear that I do believe we have to make accommodations for autistic kids. They have legitimate disabilities, and teachers I have known, as well as many other students, have been willing to do what they can to help them. When we have to deal with kids who have decided they don't want to be in school, however, we are wasting our time and theirs. This is one area where I think libertarians are right. Public education should not be compulsory.

2/22/2009 3:17 AM  
Blogger denine zielinski said...

I love that you had a chance to blog again. As a first year teacher, I often feel like I am the only one who sees the "reality" in public education. I read your blog and realize that I am not alone. I always say that if you're not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem...but I feel like I am at a total loss when it comes to solutions for so many of the problems in public education. I feel like most of my fellow teachers have given up and just accept things as they are. They all just tell me that I will do the same thing, too, in a few years when I realize that things are not going to change. It's not like me to be that way, but I fear that there is no other alternative. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more of your wrods of wisdom. Good luck with hockey!

2/22/2009 4:56 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Thanks, Dennis. I guess I meant to say through my ramble that "educating" a child may look very different for G than your regular ed. kid. How to educate the truly "troubled" teen while keeping other students safe, I would have no idea how to do.

Denine, I hope that you are able to develop a realistic outlook WITHOUT losing your idealism. God bless ya. :]

2/22/2009 6:00 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Denine! If you are thinking the way you are thinking, you're a lot more with it than I was in my early years of teaching. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: I have been thoroughly impressed with the great majority I've seen coming into education over the last several years. With people like you coming in, there is hope!

2/24/2009 3:16 AM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

Several years ago, as our Guidance folks talked with kids who were considering dropping out, it became clear that the most common reason for leaving school was that it was the one thing the student could change. They couldn't change their home life, their job, their relationships, but they could leave school. As you write, Dennis, sometimes dropping out is the best thing for all concerned. Remember, there are also many alternative ways to get an education.

2/24/2009 4:58 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...

On the other side of the argument is the decision by the state of New Hampshire (with Utah and Massachusetts to possibly follow) to move toward graduation at sixteen for students who can test into community colleges and trade schools. Students who remain in high school will take a more rigorous AP/IB curriculum in order to test into four-year universities. Anyone can take the tests, and they can be taken numerous times. Anyone can change his or her mind as well, while kids who graduate the community colleges at eighteen can transfer to four-year schools. This is based on the Tough Choices, Tough Times model, and it makes a ton of sense, being more efficient and cost effective.

Newt Gingrich weighed in with the concept of providing high school students with financial incentives to graduate early. For students who finish and meet competency standards by the end of their junior year, they could receive the money that would have been used for them as a scholarship.

I'd like to see some of it refunded to communities as schools streamline education. But I like the idea of applying some of the school funds to higher education.

2/24/2009 3:28 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Zeke, it's good that there are people like you to settle me down when I get up on my soapbox. You say that there are many alternative ways to get an education. I wish you'd elaborate on that, because I'm not sure exactly what you mean, and I'd be interested in seeing what you have to say about it.

Michael, your knowledge base never ceases to amaze me.

2/24/2009 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

Alternative ways to get an education: I was thinking of charter schools, alternative schools/programs, on-line courses, home-schooling. I don't believe that any of the above are as good for 95+% of students, in terms of a well-rounded education which includes content, how to think, and how to get along with others. However, for 5% [+/-], high school is not the place to be, for a variety of reasons. Those few SHOULD drop out, even if for a semester. I've often seen kids come back much wiser and ready to learn, even if they are not necessarily that excited about being there.
As a teacher, I always tried to use humor but learning is not always fun while it is always necessary. Sometimes it takes a student a while to realize the wisdom of the following Mark Twain [I think] quote:"When I was 14, I didn't see how anyone could be as dumb as my old man but when I was 21, I couldn't understand how anyone could have learned so much in just seven years." Perspective is golden!

Good luck in the hockey world!

2/25/2009 3:27 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Zeke, I couldn't agree more with what you say here. I would also add one thing: the GED. We had one student who was constantly in trouble, he had horrible attendance, failing everything, and obviously going nowhere. He was a real pain in the class. Our councilor worked with him to help him get his GED. He his listed as a dropout, and therefore a failure for our school system, but we really view him as a success story.

2/26/2009 3:02 AM  

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