Category Archives: Failures

Frustrated Teacher – Part 2

I composed a post the other quickly detailing the difficulties of a class I have. The majority of the students have a history of failure and have just been passed through year after year. I couldn’t even get that group to turn in a summary assignment that we started in class.

I appreciate the comments I received: advice, commiseration, and support.

Generally, I start with simple assignments such as the summary to build the students’ confidence and then we gradually build to the more complex skills. However, this group of students refuses to do anything outside of class: no vocabulary practice, no rewriting, no reading, nothing. If this continues, they will not make it through another English course. Homework will have to be done; not everything can be done in class.

Besides this, the course has 6-8 required assignments which must be passed to pass the course. We are about to begin the first two (both small), but the students will have to do some work outside of the classroom. This is the great hurdle for me: convincing this group that the homework must be done.

I also believe that the general system of education has harmed these students in the past (social promotion, no requirements to move onto the next level course, etc.), but my school has enabled the unwanted behaviors as well.

I mentioned a year ago a program that has now been required of all Freshmen where students are blocked together. What I didn’t mention as particularly then as I will now is the hand-holding that occurs.

Some of the assistance is quite positive such as extra support from counselors, additional layers of intervention for math, and added time for tutoring. These actually help the students and provide a support system which forces the students to improve.

However, there is a downside too. Referrals are intercepted by office staff to have “talks” instead of consequences for misbehavior (it takes three referrals for admin. action with these students versus one for everyone else), the teachers are encouraged to make “deals” with students, the teachers are often (indirectly) judged by passage rates which encourages grade inflation, and at least three teachers with whom I’ve spoken have had to write out student assignments for them.

Regardless, whether the system or my school may share some culpability, ultimately the student is responsible. I do put some of the onus on the parents (as one commenter noted after my last post), but the student has to grow up at some point.

At what point do we stop providing the excuses for the students? The system didn’t prepare them well enough, they’ve been passed through, the home life is difficult, and so on. I don’t want to sound heartless, but an employer is not going to care about any of these pardons. Yes, the students are kids, and I do not believe in making non-academic items part of an academic grade, but at some point the students must step up or suffer the consequences.

And what frightens me the most is–above all else–is that these students just won’t have the skills or concepts mastered to allow me to mark a passing grade on their report cards. Timmy may arrive with a 3rd grade reading level and leave with a 7th grade reading level, but if Timmy doesn’t meet the course standards I can’t mark a passing grade. He may need more time than some of his classmates, but Timmy still has to meet standard to pass the course.

At some point the students have to do the work.

Must Pass To Advance

Idaho is now requiring that middle school students pass 80% of their 7th and 8th grade classes to advance into high school. I say this is a valid decision, and I’m curious to follow the results. As a high school teacher, I see too many students entering well below grade level, essentially placed in a position where they are doomed to fail.

According to the article:

“Students understand that middle level doesn’t count,” said Rob Sauer, the state Department of Education’s deputy superintendent for innovation and choice….”It’s an issue because you hear from these students who are very capable, but they don’t think school counts until ninth or 10th grade,” [state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa] McGrath said.

Idaho must prepare for a bit more crowding in the middle schools, but I think this is worth it. Waiting until 9th grade–10 years into the system–to hold students accountable is way too late. I wish them well in this venture and look forward to seeing the results over the next 7-10 years.

Union Busting

High transient population. High poverty. High number of second language students.

Yep, must be the teachers’ fault.

But let’s call it what it is: union busting. As one Washington Post editorial writer said:

It’s no wonder that Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded the move, saying the committee members were “showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.”

Courage, indeed.

Now, all they have to do is find 93 excellent professionals to take their places. Recruiting the best educators should be easy, especially when you can offer them life in a very poor town and a job with no security.

And, of course, the powers that be will have to ignore all the other influences on high school students because their poor performance was all about the adults at the high school.

Their elementary and middle school education — or lack thereof? Not a problem.

Their sometimes difficult home lives? Naw. That doesn’t affect how a kid does at school.

No Child Left Behind, a federal education law that has driven schools to drastically narrow curriculum and use rudimentary standardized tests to measure how well kids are doing? Nope. Not an issue, nor is the fact that Duncan is largely continuing the NCLB practices that have been shown to be a failure.

The Daily Kos commented on the Rhode Island story with this:

[A] policy that encourages school boards to fire everyone or lose federal funding is as lazy and incompetent as any of the teachers John Stossell and the voucher supporters trumpet (with nearly slanderous abandon) as indicative of all public school teachers.When you sweep out all teachers, including the ones who have given their all and who have succeeded with countless children, you are not improving schools, you are hastening the destruction of public education.

A great summation by The Daily Kos, but how disheartening to hear the nation’s leader of education support a measure with no history of success, practices shown by decades of research to be unsuccessful, and policies that undermine the the very systems he wishes to see improve. I was excited to hear what he had to say at last year’s NEA Representative Assembly. This year I’m excited to hear the reactions if he does show up.

The current administration of “hope” has left me with little.

You Don’t Say

So….”the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education.” Really? Very surprising indeed.

Hmmm….”gains on state test scores were inflated when Illinois relaxed passing standards and that too many students still drop out of high school or graduate unprepared for college” and “Duncan’s closure of low-performing schools often shuffled students into comparable schools, yielding little or no academic benefit.”

You mean Secretary Arne Duncan’s methods are not the panacea long sought for by education reformers? I just can’t believe it.

Well, why wouldn’t we want to apply his Chicago methods to education around the country?

Sigh. My snark meter is running high today.

The Typical Four Schools

Richard DuFour, at the Seattle PLC conference, described four types of schools he and his researchers have typically seen. They are as follows:

  • The Darwin School of Natural Selection: In these schools students are put into classes based on their innate gifts and are seldom moved up or down according to their successes or failures.
  • Pontius Pilate Schools: Within the walls of these schools teachers instruct and then wash their hands of the students. After all, the teachers taught/presented it and the students are now responsible for the rest.
  • Chicago Cubs Schools: At these schools a warm and fuzzy environment is created where expectations are low, but all are excited to be there.
  • Henry Higgins Schools: These schools demand high expectations for all, and the teachers will ensure that all students meet those standards no matter how much grief, consternation, sacrifice, or time it takes for the teachers.

Do any of these schools describe your school? Or, do you see these schools within your school?

Sports or Books?

In this era of cost-saving measures, what should we cut or reduce? Some say high school sports should be cut while others say college campus staff members should be given the axe. There are a range of ideas, but what is the right area to cut back?

Stream of consciousness alert!

I tend to advocate for program cuts first. What are the “nice to haves” versus the “must haves”? And there are no easy answers.

If a program requires extra people primarily for bureaucratic reasons, I say cut it. We have programs like the Medicaid Match program where teachers record how much class time and duty time is devoted to helping students with health or counseling issues, and then these recording sheets are given to a clerk who specifically has to document, verify, and refer the records to another level of scrutiny. Relatively little money is generated per school for this program, maybe $1.25 per student (which my school uses to run detention halls, which are not very effective but is a whole other post).

We also have programs which duplicate the services of other programs. The same pool of students is double or triple served. This type of cost can be eliminated quickly or altered to help more students. Since most students cannot be in more than one program at a time, we have numerous programs with multiple open slots and no one to fill them.

We might converse about the feasibility of a student-driven schedule. Should we allow students to choose their classes, or should we ask for preferences and fill the classes we decide to offer using the preference lists as a guide only? Do we keep programs that serve a sliver of the population while other programs are overcrowded? Do we offer sparsely filled classes just to say we have a wide variety of offerings?

My school also has clubs with paid advisors who only have 4-5 club members, yet these clubs have the same stipend as clubs with up to 50 members. Is this a good use of student body funds? Should popularity play any role in the cost or allotment of an activity?

Should students who fail a core course automatically be enrolled in a cheaper online version rather than be in a regular classroom setting? Would it be cheaper only in the short-term? Should summer school be mandatory? I know my district pays relatively little to summer school instructors even though the workload is similar to that of the normal school year.

I’m just rambling some ideas off the top of my head, but I’m wondering what will drive the decision-making processes used to determine what stay and what goes. It could be scary.