I read with relief that the national trend on “getting tough” in schools seems to be reversing. In an article published earlier this week in the NYTimes, Lizette Alverez reported that Broward County FLA has decided it is better to work with students who commit minor offenses than to throw them out of school or have them arrested. As a HS disciplinarian for six years from 1975 through 1981 it struck me that suspensions were counter-productive… especially suspending students for cutting classes which seemed to be standard operating procedure for the two districts I worked in. Changing this procedure by introducing in-school-suspension met with resistance among some faculty members who wanted the kids who cut class or missed school to be “punished”. Most of them couldn’t see at first blush that telling a student who wanted to miss class or stay home was in effect rewarding them…. and penalizing them by not allowing them to make up the work because they were on suspension only made matters worse by making it more difficult for them to succeed in class.
In general “getting tough” with students is based on the assumption that what is happening in school is important and relevant to the student and the student’s parent… and my experience was that the teachers who worked hard to make their classes engaging and relevant were the ones who supported in-school suspension and those who “taught the kids what they needed to know and expected them to learn it” were the ones who wanted to “get tough” when a student missed their class.
There is a management aphorism that suggests bosses should treat their employees like they are volunteers… because they ARE. That same aphorism could apply to teachers and students: learning is a voluntary activity and cannot happen without engagement. Teachers (and administrators) need to do everything possible to engage students and if the students are disengaged the adults need to probe to find out why and work to connect with the child.
Gary Gutting’s NYTimes essay, “The Real Humanities Crisis” describes the sad reality that there are fewer and fewer jobs available for those who major in humanities in college… and that is contributing to a viscous circle whereby fewer students are drawn to that major in college. Sadly, public education is cited as one area that is no longer appealing to humanities majors. Why?
…As for non-college teaching, the sad state of so many of our K-12 schools — with their unprepared and undisciplined students, overcrowding, lack of funding and obtuse, test-obsessed bureaucracies — make teaching there a path to frustration and burnout.
So public education, which Gutting believes SHOULD be a logical place for humanities majors to work, is no longer a viable option because of budget cuts and the obsession with tests. As readers of this blog realize, this observation warranted a comment:
You need to talk to your colleagues and editors about public education reform. They all seem to think we need to run schools like a business and advocate the creation and expansion of the “obtuse, test-obsessed bureaucracies” while cutting wages and benefits for teachers. This “reform” package makes teaching a “path to frustration and burnout” and makes learning a monotonous progression of mandated common core lessons based on a students chronologic age instead of their interest. Until we abandon our obsession with testing we will repel humanists from entering public education altogether. Fortunately for some of them, the affluent school districts and elite private schools who ignore the tests will be able to employ humanistic teachers and pay them a decent wage.
Gutting offers a remedy for public schools, one that sounds like the “Finland” plan:
We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding. Meeting the needs of this part of the cultural middle class could, in fact, be the key to saving our schools.
Alas, our “reformers” believe that testing and measurement is the road to school improvement— NOT “good salaries and good working conditions”. As any business minded person knows, wages and working conditions cost money and that money has to come from taxes and taxes are a drain on the economy. Measurement, though, costs little and, as Tom Friedman asserts, will yield improvement by “striking fear into the hearts” of teachers and administrators. If only it were that easy….
Frank Bruni wrote a column today posing this question: “Are Kids Too Coddled?” As readers of this blog can imagine, my short answer would be a resounding NO! Here’s one of the comments I left:
Arne Duncan’s remarks about suburban moms were not only “impolitic”, they were not based on facts. Here are some facts:
=>Suburban schools are NOT failing based on NAEP tests the USDOE use to measure success.
=>Suburban kids are NOT “coddled”, they are under extreme pressure from the day they start school.
=>The Common Core Standards may “…emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization”, but no one knows WHAT the tests designed to measure student’s knowledge of the common core measure because they were never field tested.
=> There is NO evidence that the common core tests can measure teacher performance and ample evidence that “Value added” tests are flawed.
=> Many parents would love to “look at the results and ask themselves how they can help their children do better”, but they can’t because the neither the parents nor the teachers can see the test questions OR the individual student results.
As a retired school superintendent who experienced 29 years of tests I see the problem with the common core as one of implementation. The teachers who lead classrooms, the administrators who lead schools and districts, and the boards who answer to local taxpayers did not have ample opportunity to offer substantive feedback on the standards. Teachers had NO say on the design of tests and are rightfully opposed to their use as a measure of “added value”. If the NYTimes supports the idea of the common core, it should challenge it’s implementation, not “coddling” parents.
Having used up my 1500 characters and still feeling the need to share more thoughts on the subject, I entered this comment:
Are Kids Too Coddled? My answer is a resounding NO!
Those students in the suburbs and upscale urban neighborhoods might appear to be “coddled”… but from the very minute they enter school they are expected to excel. They need to prepare for the Kindergarten entry test that measures their “giftedness”, the Middle School examinations that determine if they are eligible for the “fast track” or the best magnet school; they need to “build a resume” in high school that will make them stand out when they apply to the elite college of their choice…. and heaven forfend if they don’t want to go to college!
Students raised in poverty are seldom “coddled” and too often neglected. A close look at the test results indicates it is that segment of the school population that our public education system fails.
And there are many students who drift through middle and high school disengaged because they know their parents cannot afford to send them to college and the information given to them in the classroom is of no interest to them whatsoever. They are ignored and allowed to drift because there is no place for them in our economy.
The common core is a great idea: we need to have a greater focus on analytic thinking and prepare more of our kids for life after high school… but to do that we might need to do MORE coddling and less testing.
Given Bruni’s extended riff on youth athletics I could have posted a third comment drawn from yesterday’s blog post about John O’Sullivan’s ideas on athletics, but figured someone else might do it.
As the title of this post indicates, I am distressed over the fact that the NYTimes fails to see that public education’s crisis is NOT the result of “bad teaching” or insufficient data on student performance. It is the result of what I would call “rational disengagement” by parents and students who cannot se where school will take them. Several years ago Ted Sizer wrote a book called Shopping Mall High School where he observed that successful high schools exhibited “Three Ps”: purpose, push, and personalization. The common core and the testing regimen emphasizes one of those “Ps”, PUSH, and neglects the other two. Without purpose and personalization there can be do student engagement and without student engagement there can be no school success.