It’s the System

This morning as I read through online newspapers around my state, I cam across this article detailing how one school has created a small block of time to help students pass classes with a special emphasis on freshmen. While I applaud the efforts, I wonder why so much pressure is placed on the high school to “get kids through” as my administrator told me one day at my school.

In some continuous improvement classes I took, notably Deming’s influential work, I had one stat pounded into me: the system is at fault 96% of time, people 4% of the time. Granted people create the system, but changing the system could be an answer.

I know what I say here may not be popular, but be clear: I am not saying any one group is responsible. The system needs to change, in my opinion.

The most frustrating part for me when teaching at a high school is seeing how many kids have figured out the system. From kindergarten through 8th grade these kids have realized no one is going to hold them back a grade if they don’t perform. The reasons for this are many, but ultimately I look at my students’ report cards from over the years and see strings of ‘F’ grades, low reading levels, too many years in ELL programs, and absence issues already. Kids have said on numerous occasions, “Why should I do the work? I come here anyway.”

I sure wish we could have kids earn credits to move onto the next grade. Maybe start this in 6th grade or so. Allowing kids to develop such bad habits and then expecting them to suddenly change their ways in their 10th year of school seems myopic at best. As often as we tell kids and have kids tell kids about how the system works at the high school, they just don’t get it until the consequences hit them.

This leads students to lose electives at the high school because they are then forced to “double dip.” Not only does Johnny have to take 10th grade English now that he’s a sophomore, but he has to retake 9th grade English. We already know Johnny struggles with English, but we give him twice the work in a subject in which he struggles. As an additional consequence, we take away his love. It might be art or music or shop. Imagine how Johnny feels if he has to take two math classes as well.

Anyway, I don’t have a magic bean to grow a solution to the problem, but I still do think we need to hold kids accountable earlier. I also think new ways of looking at grades could help, too. Maybe that’s a post for another day.


8 thoughts on “It’s the System

  1. thehurt

    That’s pretty much the point of standards-based grading, isn’t it? You have standards that students are expected to meet; if they don’t meet standard, they don’t advance until they do. It sounds like the problem you’re describing is a conflict between what we say we do and what we actually do. We say we hold kids up to high standards. We actually let the kids slide by even when they don’t meet those standards. Sort of a conflict of philosophies there.

  2. McSwain

    6th Grade isn’t soon enough. I teach 4th, and I see some kids do absolutely nothing because if their parents don’t care (and too many don’t), there are zero consequences. I understand social promotion supported by extra assistance in the case of a genuine learning disability, but by applying it across the board we are creating a lack of responsibility and just plain laziness in our students.

    Standard-based grading does no good if we just check the box saying the students have not met the standard, then let them go on to the next grade with their buddies anyway.

  3. drpezz Post author

    I thought 6th grade would be the time because it’s also when most kids begin switching teachers for classes. It’s the time when kids are no longer with one teacher all day.

  4. Mystery Teacher

    I approve of what you just said. I think all of education needs to be changed. Kids and parents need to be held accountable for learning the information. We can teach and teach but if the kids don’t want to learn, we are forced to pass them. How does that work? It doesn’t. We have the standards. Why don’t we use them to make a nation-wide test of things a child MUST know to go on to the next level. Why do we just pass them to get them out of our class? I hate that. Yet, everytime I try to retain a student, the parents, the administration and everyone else come unglued. Hold people accountable! They hold us accountable but we can only do so much.

  5. drpezz Post author

    MT – That’s the toughest part from my point of view looking at the middle schools. You want to hold to the standards but are not allowed to do so. Makes me want to scream just thinking about it. Aaaargh!

    That feels better.

  6. Fred Ravan

    I agree–my nephew is a prime example. He will be a senior this year and has just learned ( by learned, I mean, officially via a letter for the super) that he will not be able to graduate, even with an extra year. This problem has been building since ninth grade. When I spoke to him about it, he told me that I was wrong, that he would get a diploma because that is what no child left behind means. The dear boy has some emotional issues but, he never has gotten past the idea that you don’t have to do any work to pass. This has been reinforced/exacerbated by the fact that he has continued to move up the homeroom ladder every year despite his lack of credits.
    In my mind, students should be able to demonstrate a cadre of basic skills before they are allowed to enter high school. If it takes some longer get ready, then it just take some longer to get ready. The difficult part would getting parents and the public to accept the idea of 17 year first year freshman.

  7. Melissa

    In SC high schools, students are required to earn a certain number of credits (and specific ones, like English, math, science, etc.) before moving on to the next grade. They cannot move on or graduate without earning those grades.

    Our school has been experimenting with various credit recovery programs to help move repeating/held-back students along faster, but there are a lot of drawbacks to this initiative as well.


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