When I read about the increased graduation requirements for all of Florida, I first thought to myself, how the suits, the far off policy makers, the vast majority who had never been teachers or had anything to do with education until by virtue of being elected they somehow became experts on the subjects had once again got it wrong. Then I thought to myself, self how often do you think our legislators and school board members use advanced algebra, physics or chemistry in their everyday lives, I thought this even though I already knew the answer.
I think I can safely say they do as often as I and the vast majority of you do which is never. However that fact did not prevent them from passing a law requiring public school students to pass algebra II and one of the two sciences before they graduate.
My mind them meandered back to the mundane as I also wondered where they were going to put these new classes. At my high school and at most “low performing” high schools many of the classrooms are already occupied by reading and remedial math classes. We have 12 reading teachers at my high school. That’s 12 teachers, teaching 72+ classes of reading to over a thousand students. Think about this, most of our kids can’t read at grade level but at the same time we expect them to take and pass algebra II and chemistry. We also have a half dozen intensive math teachers, one of whom told me the other day, he would be happy if his kids learned long division by the end of the year. However once again, we expect these kids to take and pass algebra II and chemistry or physics. Does anybody else see the insanity here?
Once again (if you have read my stuff before) I am not saying advanced math’s and sciences don’t have a place in education. What I am saying is they are not the end all be all, panacea that our legislatures think will solve the ills of education. Look at Duval County for instance. Years ago the powers-that-be at 1701 Prudential drive became caught up in the success of Stanton and Paxon, annually regarded as two of the best schools in the nation and thought, if kids can do it there they can do it at any school and increased the graduation requirements accordingly. This despite the fact the typical kid at the accademic magnet school is greatly different from the typical kid at the neighborhood school. Why am I teaching algebra II to a kid who wants to drive a truck a colleague once lamented.
And Let me tell you Duval County after a temporary drop has been graduating kids with these enhanced graduation requirement too, and like how no good deed goes unpunished, and there is an admitted inherent goodness in wanting kids to do well in advanced subjects, many of these kids however, through a lack of skills have paid the price for it. You see just because these students have been graduating it definitely does not mean they have all been learning. To the contrary many have just been shuffled from one grade to the next, teachers under pressure from administrators to pass them along. How much evidence do you need that this is going on? How about the fact that most of our high school kids don’t read at grade level and barely half can do math. How about the fact that Florida State College at Jacksonville reports seventy percent of our grads have to take remedial classes or businesses report having trouble finding qualified workers from the pool of recent graduates? What is it going to take to convince you? How about walking through the hallways of a neighborhood school or sitting in a few of its classes. Ask a principal if you can sometime as it may be eye opening. Don’t just take my word or it, but likewise don’t just believe that the legislature is getting it right either.
Think about it this way, the economy is terrible right now and many people who want to work can’t find a job but what should also have you and me concerned is the amount of people who are working but are underemployed. They have jobs but aren’t working at the level their education would normally dictate nor as many hours as they normally would. If we were to count them then then our unemployed/underemployed rate would be about 25%. Well like the economy has the underemployed, Duval County and now I fear so too will the rest of the state have great numbers of the under educated. Sure they will have graduated but what will they be prepared for? If you answered college or the workforce, you are probably both a lot more optimistic than me and/or not a public school teacher. If our graduation rate is sixty-six percent, imagine what our percentage of kids prepared for college or the job force is. Where I have no empirical figures as nobody I know studies it, I would bet the true percentage of kids prepared for what comes next to be under fifty.
Friends it’s even worse than that. You hear all the times in the halls and in the teachers’ lounge about the extreme measures that teachers go to, to get kids to pass. 0-20 is an F in my class a former teacher of the year said, 21-40 is a D and a 41 is a C, passing. My study guide is basically the test and I let them use the study guide on the test is another teachers strategy. Some teachers give extra credit for just showing up. If you come and don’t get a referral you will walk out of my class with a C. Another teacher gives points for professional dress, you can literally get a C in my class if all you do is wear a tie daily, I was told. I could go on and on and on. Then there is learning recovery which says, if a kid for any reason fails a class, and that includes bad behavior, lack of effort or failing to attend, they can turn an F into a C if they complete some assignments on the computer.Would any o that lown 20 years ago coincidently when we didn't have to take algebra at all and the United States education standing was much higher?
Friends we have dumbed down education to the point it is nearly unrecognizable. None of the kids in one of my science classes new their states, in another nobody could identify Australia and in a third I had to explain to the kids that the chemical formula for water was H2O. These are all things I learned in middle school as I was passing through Duval Counties school system, and then the so called education experts’ answer to the problems we are having is to raise the graduation requirements. I feel like education has become a Dilbert cartoon, where the engineer says he doesn’t know anything about nuclear power and the pointy haired boss instructs him to build a nuclear powered whatsit. Can somebody with a straight face who isn’t going to profit from the big business that education has become explain to me how this isn’t madness. By the way look out friends somebody is going to get rich creating end of course exams, just like somebody got rich on the FCAT.
We don’t need to ratchet up the requirements, if anything we need to tone them down and make sure what’s important is both rigorous and legitimate. Kids don’t need a half baked algebra II class they need a legitimate algebra I class. A colleague told me only about half of his algebra II kids could pass a legitimate algebra I class. We need to slow things down and make sure we get the basics right first before we push kids into classes, which quite frankly, like you and me and our legislatures, will never use.
Then don’t believe the hype that these so called experts have come up with. It’s a disingenuous argument that the advanced classes will help children think and figure things out even if they never use what they “supposedly learn” again; that these classes provide critical thinking skills. Well won’t learning a trade or a skill develop the same skills? Furthermore doesn’t leaning about the arts open up a child’s creative side and aren’t these skills and classes ones that children will use again. You think classes teaching skills, trades and the arts are already in short supply now; well just wait until a school needs a dozen more science and math teachers but wasn’t been given any money to pay for them.
Furthermore we are not going to have a society of just engineers and doctors no matter how much the legislature wants it, no matter how high they set the bar. After all we don’t have the children they wish we had, we have the children we do and it’s time we stated acting accordingly. If not more and more children despite the fact they “managed to graduate” won’t manage to do much more.
I get it though, we want kids to meet their potential and we want that potential to be sky high. I just wish the people who worked with the kids who are forced to implement these edicts from far off ivory towers and the kids themselves were sometimes consulted about what was best for them and what they wanted to do with their lives. These far off suits, who look at an idea like enhanced graduation requirements and then don’t apply any of the same critical thinking that they want kids to have, shouldn’t be making these future altering decisions after all they don’t have to take algebra II or chemistry and physics.