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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Who uses statistics

There is an old saying that I think is somewhat appropriate when discussing education and that’s only liars and politicians use statistics. Friends that’s the set up.

I recently read an editorial in the Times Union describing how over the next decade the nation will desperately need more individuals with college degrees and we were projected to fall about three million short. They sited several impressive statistics from several impressive organizations and implied America’s economic future was at stake. I was sold, just like that.

Just like I was sold when years ago the school board gave a talk about how children who fail the sixth grade rarely finish school and like I was sold when the same school board explained why they needed to tweak ninth grade promotion requirements. It seems if a kid fails sixth grade their percentage of reaching high school is greatly diminished and if they failed ninth grade their chances of finishing high school also drop greatly. That’s why it only takes five credits to pass ninth grade. The powers-that-be reasoned students would be able to make up the missing credits over the next three years.

On the surface I found none of the aims and statistics unreasonable, after all we want kids to pass, we don’t want kids to drop out and we want kids to go to college and I also believe we should do almost anything we can to make sure those things happen. Nope none of it is unreasonable at all, when taken in a vacuum that is.

Though that’s the thing with statistics, they can give you percentages or odds but your son or daughter, niece or nephew or neighbor is not a number on a spreadsheet they are an individual and should be treated as such. When we don’t fail kids, push them along or put many in situations they have no business being in then they pay they price not the statistics. Furthermore when the above statistics play a role in developing our policy and philosophy as a district we can easily see the problems that they create, and that my friends, is the rub.

If we pass sixth graders without the skills they need to be successful we have just sent their problems down the line and we can do so all the way to high school where even there it only takes five credits to pass the ninth grade. However once they get to tenth grade there’s nowhere else for them to get moved to, then friends it’s sink or swim and many aren’t swimming. I would be very interested to know what grade sees the most kids drop out. I would bet it would be right around tenth grade where promotion requirements loose much of their flexibility. But hey we got them there right?

Then not every child is going to college and our push to make every child do so is littered with failure. Our graduation and drop out rates are high. Seventy percent of our graduates have to take remedial classes and the rates of kids passing advanced placement tests has been steadily declining. What good is having all these rigorous classes like algebra II and chemistry if we don’t have the rigor.

Friends you have to realize that just passing kids along and then them not being prepared are directly related to each other. We can have the great hopes and dreams but don’t our children deserve realistic ones. Then you have to realize we have to make a change before more of our kids become nothing but statistics.

We can’t govern how we do things based on statistics generated in far off think tanks by people who have never worked with our kids. We need to get in with the kids ourselves and find their strengths and weaknesses and deal with them individually. If it’s fail them in sixth grade that should be all right as well as long as they use the extra time to get the skills they need to be successful. If that’s go to college great, if it’s not that’s great too. Regardless our aim should be to prepare them to be good and productive citizens.

Teachers can’t be forced to worry about how their students will do in a global economy if they can’t keep the students awake in their classes. We can’t demand that every student is prepared for college but at the same time be okay that more than a few don’t make any effort in school.

We need to worry about the students we have in front of us not the students we wish we had. We need to do what we can do and not be so fixated on what we wish we could do. We can look at the statistics and odds but we need to know that sometimes people beat the odds too.

If we don’t we’re going to have other statistics to worry about such as a spiraling economy that never recovers, a higher crime rate and more and more children neither prepared for college or the workforce who just drain society of what few resources it has.

If we don’t make any changes what do you think the odds of that are?

That my friends is the tragedy.

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