One of Education’s Biggest Problems: High Standards [Reader Post]


Education is filled with problems today.  Lax discipline, unions, lousy teachers, lousy parents, single-parent homes, drugs, and the sad spiritual state of our country.

So what do Democrats think we should do?  Send more money to the schools and raise the standards.  What do Republicans think we should do?  Send less money to the schools and raise the standards.

Why doesn’t Congress pass a law for all SUV’s to be completely safe and get 50 miles per gallon?  Why doesn’t Congress pass a law that all jobs must pay at least $75,000/year and mandate every state to have 100% employment?  If fact, why does Congress outlaw death, in order to reduce medical costs?  The reason is, these things cannot be mandated.   Simply passing a law won’t make it so.

You cannot mandate that students have higher standards and that everyone maintain these higher standards.  You cannot simply mandate that standards be raised and figure, standards will be raised.  Here is what happens (and I can testify to this, as I was a teacher for 29 years):  on the high school level, when I began teaching, 1 year of math was required and it could be a low, low level course.   When I left teaching, all high school students had to take 3 years of math and they had to be tough courses, which included Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

At one time, Geometry marked out those who were going to college; and those who did not take Geometry, probably would not go to college (or, at least, not in any of the hard sciences).

Now, let’s think about this for a moment.  Nearly 40% of kids go off to college and complete their college education.  Maybe another 10% go to college, but never complete a degree (these are rough numbers).  So, now my school (as a result of Texas legislators) are requiring all kids to take a set college prep classes, and what do you think was the result?  Our dropout rate increased and continues to increase.  A 30–50% dropout rate is not unusual for any school district now (schools all over have done the same thing).

What else happened?  The curriculum for all of these college-prep courses was watered down.  You simply do not mandate from on high that all kids, no matter what their abilities, will take college prep courses.  This was one of the worst changes in our system.

And what did not happen?  Kids did not go to college in greater numbers and kids were not better prepared for college (I know this because the remedial courses at our local community college increased in number during this same time period).

Why is this?  Algebra II was no longer Algebra II; Geometry was no longer geometry.   Since every kid had to take these classes, these courses got watered down, year after year after year.

Every kid deserves a decent education.  50% of the students in any high school have an I.Q. below 100.  So, the last thing a school district ought to do is structure its curriculum for only half of the students.

I had one gal in one of my classes, and let me just call her Sadie (not her real name).  Sadie was a darling little girl, and she worked hard and she paid attention and she took school seriously, and Sadie was not very bright.  She could not pass the standardized exit exam to save her life (she was no longer my student at this time).  This was a little girl who was seriously stressed, and she was made to feel like she was a 2nd class person because of this.

She came to me and told me her problem had been diagnosed and that she suffered from A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) and she was going to be give drugs to help her concentrate.

Here, I failed her as a former teacher.  I didn’t know what to say to her.  Could I tell her, “Don’t take the drugs.”  This was the result of many people making this decision, and I felt horrible that I did not know what to say to her, in order to dissuade her.  It is 10 years later and I still feel badly about that situation.

There are millions of girls like Sadie.  They do not need college prep courses.  They do not need drugs to help them concentrate.  They need a curriculum which is designed for them.

It is because of girls like Sadie that 30% and more kids drop out of high school as our standards are increased.  School is not relevant to them.  They are taking classes which are not related to them in any way.  They are being pushed to do things that most of them cannot do.

When there is a top-down imposed curriculum (from the state or federal government), in which each school trying to outdo the others in academic excellence, they forget about Sadie.  After all, you have academics trying to impress other academics pushing that which they understand: academia.

Sadie doesn’t need 3 or 4 years of English; she needs maybe 2.  She does not need 3 years of math, starting with Algebra I and working her way up; she needs 1—some reasonably easy course of applied arithmetic.

More than this, Sadie needs options.  Maybe she is talented in band or basketball; maybe she should be in foods or autoshop.  As long as her high school is not oppressive and does not attempt to prepare her for college, she will work hard and enjoy her high school years.  If she has 1, 2 or 3 open periods each year, she can explore a variety of classes or hands-on work or get a job on the outside and have that count as school credit (once, a very common approach for girls like Sadie).

Schools need to have a minimal curriculum, and parents and students need options.   Teddy may want to go into computers; Sadie into foods; and Bill into academia.   Today, most kids have to go to a particular public school, and they have no choice in the matter.  It might be good and it might be lousy; but that is their one option (unless their parents are rich enough to pay for a private school).  That’s simply wrong.  We need minimal standards and a variety of options.  We do not need high standards geared toward college.

One idea which I believe is used in Belgium is, every kid has $7000 (or whatever) each year which follows him around.  He can go to any school in his city and that money goes to that school.   It might be a Christian school, it might be a vocational school, it might be the school with the toughest football team in the county.   Will some public schools be shut down?  You bet.  Thousands of them.   What will happen to those campuses?  Probably a successful private school will decide, that is about the right size for us and they will buy it or rent it.

Nearby, where I live, there are about 6 different supermarkets I can go to.  I like that.  If  I decide that this or that store is not giving me what I want, I go elsewhere.   These supermarkets all seem to be busy and prosperous.  It is how our schools need to be.

We need to rethink education.  We should not forget about Sadie.

From Conservative Review #143 (HTML)   (PDF)

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Three political leaders with low student performance:

Sarah Palin, George W Bush, John McCain

Three high achievers:

Barack Obama, William Clinton, James Carter

Home School, you still have to pay for Government Schools, but you don’t have to put up with the problems. (In my case, a preatty daughter, in a school where discipline was, shall we say, racially sensitive). The peer group is the parents, and progress is just whatever the student can handle.

as a former teacher let me tell you this. we need classes with fewer students, discipline, and fail them when they fail. don’t hold their hand and tell them it is okay to not be able to read and write. start with reading, writing and arithmetic. can all that bs testing and trash it. let the student have art and band. it makes them better students and want to go to school. the rest of the bs can go. i taught for awhile in a temporary building. it was just fine and we were great. these big new buildings don’t do anything except make money for the superintendent’s son in law.

da zi, stupid is as stupid does. carter proved that. so your comment means what? nothing is the answer. most corporations are founded by c students by the way.

This is Lake Wobegon, and ALL of our children are above average.
I taught for eleven years in the public schools of Washington, DC. In that school system vocational education was abolished, as it was deemed racist. Segregating students on the basis of their demonstrated ability in various subjects was outlawed, as it was deemed racist. Shop classes, home economics classes–all banished.
The result: a monstrous dropout rate.
In the DC metro area, an auto mechanic can make $100,000 a year.
The universal goal of all “right”-thinking progressive politicians is to abolish human nature and replace the fact that we are unique with an egalatarian state where we are all equal.
Fact: Geometry is no longer taught. Geometry was once the construction of a marvelous structure of logic and reason, based upon observable postulates and demonstrable theorems. Proofs are too tough for many students, so there are no more proofs. Instead one memorizes an unrelated set of “facts.” The straightedge and compass constructions are no more, and we are poorer as a result. Reason and logic have been replaced by emotion and feeling.
The grand dream of Dr. King of an equality of opportunity has been replaced with the view of Rev. Sharpton that we should all have the same amount of stuff.
Just say these words: “college is not for everyone”. You will get crushed.
Fact: my grandmother (one-room schoolhouse, 1900) was more literate than my mother (modern central school, 1920’s). The dumbing-down has been going on for a long time.
Fact: we are differently endowed and have different abilities. We are suited to different ways to contribute to our world. “Not everybody can play first violin, somebody gotta push air through the trombone.” There are ways in which all individuals can contribute. See the wonderful way in which Wal-Mart employs our Down’s Syndrome brothers and sisters.
Fact: many politicians run their campaigns on envy. This gets them elected, but does not do much for the country as a whole.
Our human potential is wasted when the liberals try to make us equal.
And that is indisputable.

If kids today were required to take and pass the high school courses most of us took and passed in 1969, the drop out/failure rate would undoubtedly be in the 70% range. And that would be in the “good” schools and neighborhoods. Is ANYONE today required to take Chemistry, Trig, Calculus, 2 years of a foreign language? I doubt it.

Heh. I sent one of my sons to a Catholic school to plan for his first year of high school with the instruction that he _was_ to sign up for Latin. Imagine my surprise to learn that they no longer offered it.

His loss. I don’t think _any_ high schools are teaching it any more. _Our_ loss.

mathman: hi, on your 5 ,I totaly agree, no person has the same hability, and it use to be that,
at an early age in school,some teacher was able to see the potencial of a gifted child,
and advise the parents to influence the child toward what he could exel,
and they where very helpfull to the child growing up with that positive knowledge,making it easyer for him to follow that specialty,even if he did’nt know at the beginning,that he could be good at it,
just being inspire by that particular visionist teacher contribute to him having a succesful future
as an adult. thank you bye