Sunday, August 16, 2015

Public Education, change or perish!

There are those among us that feel that simply going back to the old days of public education is just fine.  I am not among those.  I have been in education since the late 60's and it is clear that we were not serving all children successfully.  Merely stating, as did Carol Burris,  that public ed existed before NCLB is not sufficient and is detrimental to the kids we serve.

I recall being an assistant principal at an urban high school in 1990.  Their were 400 freshmen in that class.  I went back to their graduation and their were approximately 170 graduates.  Now my math might be a little shaky and there were some variables but that is not a sign of a good school.  Another high school in the same city had approximately 650 freshmen of which 250 were failed second year freshmen.  In a school where the enrollment was listed as 1400, I counted 200 students in the cafeteria during lunch.  This is not ok!

As an administer at one of the high schools, I was struggling to support a student who was having difficulty.  A teacher approached me and stated that he was 16 years old.  I didn't understand the significance of that.  The teacher responded, "don't you understand? , He's 16, he'll drop out soon. We don't have to worry about him.  That was also the prevailing attitude of that day toward this difficult black young man.  I didn't buy that but the teachers wishes came true.  He disappeared.

Not only were expectations low  especially for black males, but their was a minimal effort to teach in the way kids learn the best.  Before NCLB there was a chapter test mentality and, by design, an approach that demonized black youth.  There was an all white honor role and the senior classes were primarily white as most black students left before the end of the year.  Freshmen classes had 35 to 40 students in the class while mostly white senior class had very small class sizes.

No, the good old days were not the good old days with students passing through with a D- just to make the data look good.  The school was said to have 1400 students had a graduation of slightly over 100.  And one of those students had attended my middle school.  She had special needs and attended the high school for three years before dropping out.  I was surprised when I attended that graduation and saw her walk across the stage with a full diploma.

So to say things were ok back then is a blatant lie.

And then came No Child Left Behind and things went from bad to worse.  Those who did well on the test, who had no obstacles in front of them were allowed to have the arts and do innovative classroom activities.  Those who were damaged by obstacles that were devastating often did not do well on the test.  As the test drives the curriculum, and those kids needed to do well on the test, the scope was narrowed.  The arts were eliminated as well as home ec, shop and innovative activities in the classroom and kids were forced to learn to the test, learn in the way they had the most difficulty learning before they were allowed to learn in the way they learn the best, often with hands on activities.  This whole child learning is innovation that has the teacher finding the best way for individual children to learn.

The setup is children are forced to learn in an outdated manner, not in the way they do best.  This is not only unethical, it is immoral.

So, should we accept the NCLB way of learning?  Of course not.  Fight it with every fiber of our being.  Should we accept the public school of old?  Of course not, improve it with the skills and abilities public teachers have.  Public school teachers are the best at innovation, allow us to do that.  The Collins amendment may open the door a crack.Are  public school teachers ready to jump through that door and make it happen?  Or will we sit on our asses and whine about the good old days.  

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