Thursday, January 8, 2009

Education a Civil Right?
by C.R. Hoff

Is Education the “Civil Right” of the 21st Century?
by Charles R. Hoff

I keep hearing this phrase in current writings about this country. Certainly there is plenty of documentation that would suggest that success in American life is far more common among those who have had some success in learning during their early life.

But wait! We now know that the current generation of Americans is the first in our history that will have LESS education than the previous generation! More money has been spent on “education” of the current generation than any previous generation. Yet the results are less than impressive. Girls now account for 60% of all college graduates, and in this state, only 14% of 9th graders will graduate from college in 10 years. Washington State has approximately 32% of adults who have a college degree, but only 14% of the current generation are on track to replace the current adults.

Does this sound a little like the declining reserves of petroleum? The suggestion that we “drill” for more oil might also be a good suggestion for what we might need to do about education!

Our minorities, an ever increasing share of our population, seem to have “suffered” the most in this race to get an education. In fact one has to ask if our secondary school system, as it currently operates, isn’t more of an “entertainment center” for minorities.

Using 10th grade statistics from Olympia, as this is the only high school grade that is measured by the state; we find that 48 of 210 Blacks in Federal Way can meet the minimum standard in Mathematics as set by the state. Among Hispanics the numbers are only slightly better. 66 of 187 students can meet the state standard. 879 out of 1402 students in the Federal Way School district can meet this standard. A little math here would suggest that 283 of the 523 students in Federal Way that did not meet the minimum standard were either Black or Hispanic. 54% of those not meeting the standard were either Black or Hispanic, however these two groups account for only 28% of the student body.

Couple this with much higher discipline rates for these two groups, and you should be able to make a case for the concept that many of these students are not coming to school with the idea of learning much in a classroom setting. Some are quite forthright in suggesting that their vocational goals are either in athletics or “music,” and they don’t mean attending Julliard!

Last spring the Superintendent commissioned a study of “Black Achievement” by a “task force” largely of educators and not including as far as I could see, anyone who might be critical of current practices, to “study” this problem and to seek a solution. They read the McKinsey report on minority education, then came up with a series of recommendations to reduce the “gap” in achievement.

Sadly, in my opinion, these recommendations followed the usual educators’ solutions to any problem. Instead of a “head on” addressing of the situation, they suggested adding “math coaches” to each secondary school and no consequence for lack of achievement! They totally neglected to think about any serious discussions with the adults in these kids’ lives.

The idea of “consequence” for attitude and motivational shortcomings never seemed to cross the Task Force’s mind. We have become a nation where “consequence” is not something that we are willing to discuss in absolute terms.

The “defense” for offering athletics, the most expensive courses per student, and participated in significant numbers by minorities, in our schools is “that there are kids who wouldn’t even come to school, let alone do any work, if the threat of not being able to “play” was not hanging over their head. Many of these kids will try to do at least the minimum amount of work, during the athletic season of concern, and then revert to non participation in academics when “not in season.” Another rationale for athletics is that “scholarships” are available for great chariot racers and gladiators.” The fact is that there are far more scholarships, thankfully, available for “scholars,” than there are for “gladiators.” Many minorities seem to only understand part of this equation.

Our fixation with athletics has led us to some pretty interesting priorities. Why does the football coach at UW make more than the president? Why is the academic admission standard for gladiators over 300 points lower on the SAT for many colleges? Why do we have a college in this state that offered a scholarship to a student in Federal Way who hadn’t passed his high school freshman courses? It goes on and on and yet this is the aspiration of many of our minority students.

What is the solution to the “minority gap?” I think it has to do with a far more realistic approach to success in school and consequences for a lack of effort. For most of us success in the adult world revolved around “effort” in something other than athletics or music. The knowledge that we gained in high school was vital to our adult life. To be able to “read, write and count” gave us a leg up on others. Sadly there seems to be little “discomfort” for non-achievement in secondary schools.

Yogi Bear was fond of saying that “He was smarter than the average bear,” and he was not far wrong for most of us. We know that this generation is less well educated than the past generation, so this should make Yogi’s saying very applicable. The forest seems to be more populated with “dumb bears” than ever, and this is an age where “smart bears” are doing well. Could it be that our training ground for adulthood is a “sheltered workshop” for most kids? If so, this is leading to a long life in the minimum wage, or a worse lifestyle, portrayed on Judge Judy almost every day.

In the latest flyer from the League of Educational Voters they state, “You can get a 4.0 GPA and not be able to get into college in this state!” That is unless you are a chariot racer or gladiator!

If education is a “civil right” then we ought to make sure that all are “getting it!”


Anonymous said...

I think that you and most other educators miss the point. If more minorities were showing improvement then that would add weight to the notion that all students were doing better.

A gain in minority test scores would be strong evidence that there was a real gain overall. As long as the gap is increasing, you cannot put much stock in the fact that test scores will ever go up significantly.

How many times have I heard an administrator declare that the far below average were unteachable? There is not a shred of evidence that supports this myth. In fact, knowledge of statistics proves just the opposite. Most small improvements are statistical anomalies.

And with all the tinkering that goes in test making, it is no surprise that comparisons are based more on conjecture than fact.

Administrators are practicing reform by the seat of their pants and there is no way we will ever find agreement even amongst administrators.

Honest Administrator: How do we make more time for a professional learning community?

Reform Administrator: You could take away 5 minutes of lunch time. Why not get rid of nutrition break? Lets subtract a minute from the passing period. How about the passing period to lunch time?

Honest Administrator: Where do we get the money to do this? Who's going to convince the teachers that they're not working for free?

Reform administrator: In four years we won't have unions anyway. If you want your job, then you'll make it happen.

Honest administrator: I think I'll retire instead.

There is not enough evidence to determine if there has been any improvement overall. That is all the reform movement can honestly say after twenty years of institutional chaos. That should be enough to shame these jackasses into silence for the rest of the century.

Reducing the achievement gap is only part of the problem. The same strategies that work for minorities, will also work for other students.

There are many minorities who are not athletes, so once again I think you are stereotyping and worse missing the point.

If there is to be equity in education then lets work on strategies that work for all students.

The bogus claims made by textbook consultants and foundations hurt minorities because low performing schools (Title I funds) are the targets of these reform groups, who not surprisingly have imposed their positivist views on teachers.

These days, power is truth. Data driven refrom has become meaningless in an irrational world where all opinions count is a euphemism. Experts cannot even agree on key points, like the dropout rate...

You have to become your own guide and once again, all you have to do is open up a textbook and ask yourself will my students be challenged by the material being presented to them.

I have 12th graders (fortunate or unfortunate enough to still be in school) that can't add or multiply fractions. They can't convert a mixed number into an improper fraction. Isn't it about time someone taught them these things.

Anonymous said...

The reason we have social promotion is because low-tiered students have a different curriculum. The low-tier track is concerned with getting a hs diploma, and soon even that will be taken away from them.

It is becoming harder for these students to cross over to a high tiered track, not easier. The WASL is the test that low tier students must pass to get a diploma.

High tier students take the SAT. Unlike the WASL, the SAT is voluntary and it gets used as a placement tool for college.

The WASL is little more than a glorified driver's license. Hah, it does not even prove that the person graduated from high school.

Give reform the boot.

Anonymous said...

This article sounds farsical and it misses the point entirely.

First, successfully, well-written curriculum is directly tied to student academic achievement. It has a standard that is far above what gets peddled during textbooks adoptions.

The DOE refuses to unify curriculum and standards, opting for the less-than transparent and cryptic research funded by the NSF and non-profit foundations.

Second, there is the lack of equity in education. Students do not suffer from a lack of schooling. Rather, they are not learning what is being taught in classrooms.

Public schooling has become a two-tiered system of dropouts vs graduates and the dropouts are primarily minorities and males. As long as students feel they are not learning and not being successful, there will be no cooperation from them.

Third, there is the diversion of public funds by administrators and exopoliticals, who currently wield power, and impose their will either to change where it is not needed or with words vs deeds. Either they are clueless or criminal.

Anonymous said...

I did what I had to do. Homeschool my youngest in ninth grade. Great kids are not passing school and its not them.

She's a whole lot happier and taking professional art lessons in exchange for getting her school work done. She's also preparing to compete in Nationals (her dream).

School has been more like kindergarten and I can't stand to see good minds go to waste. 'What Works' is hogwash.

Teachers can't compete with the idleness that happens in classrooms. My daughter and I decided preparing for work was more important than trying to decipher what schools were trying to teach. I think reform has got it all wrong.