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.