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Monday, October 17, 2011


A new term has entered the education lexicon and that’s scrubbing. If you guessed that has to do with cleaning something you’re right but bet you couldn’t guess what was being cleaned in a hundred tries. To save time I’ll just tell you it has to do with grades being scrubbed clean, make that improved so children regardless if they have the skills or not to be successful at the next level or not will be promoted there. Why would educators do that, well it’s simple, it’s because it is easier to appear to be improving than actually improving, and there my friends is the conundrum and reality that education currently finds itself in.

Look at Jacksonville. The school board boasts about all the A schools it has, well most of these schools are at the elementary and middle school level. Inversely at the high school level 11 of the 18 high school are either D or F schools. If we drop the four dedicated magnet schools from the list now it’s 11 out of 14. This is because kids are pushed along till high school and then when they get there; there is nowhere else to push them too, so they struggle. But the district will proudly say but look at all the A schools we have.

A math teacher friend of mine told me that out of all his algebra II students only about a third could pass a legitimate algebra I class. He explained that kids routinely arrive without the skills to do the work. Then in high school the kids that make an honest effort that aren’t behavior problems are pushed along. He reasoned, why should they be punished because they didn’t receive the skills when they should have and why should they be held back and forced to take multiple math classes at a time (more than a few kids are required to take algebra I and geometry at the same time because they failed a class). He then though in the caveat, it’s not like any of them are ever going to use this again.

I don’t blame the teachers at elementary schools and middle schools for passing children along. They are under such pressure to pass kids today no matter what. There was a time when it was a no-brainer, if a kid didn’t pass they stayed behind. Now today’s teachers are expected, cajoled, and bullied into finding ways to pass kids. Sadly we do them no favors when we pass them along while crossing our fingers hoping that at some point they will catch up.

This is all happening at the same time the district has a sixty-five percent graduation rate. The reality is, of the number that are graduating probably a third of them aren’t prepared for the working world or for college. Then the powers-that-be think if we make more rigorous courses like algebra II and chemistry mandatory this will somehow improve performance. Colleges all the time complain that so many students have to receive remedial classes before they start their studies. Well what do they think is going to happen when students are pushed along because the district wants to appear to be doing a good job?

How about we try this, we make all classes rigorous and if a student isn’t ready to move on they don’t until they are. Then at the same time we put in place after school and summer school opportunities and maybe we should make them mandatory too. Hey little Johnny what do you want to do go home and play your ps3 or stay after school and get tutoring. These are children perhaps it’s time we stopped treating them like mini-adults and made some decisions for them.

Furthermore at schools throughout the district teachers are being told that they won’t receive a high performing mark on their evaluation because they gave to many Fs and Ds. With a wink and a nod the district is telling teachers not to give Fs and Ds anymore. That’s right folks in many cases the C is the new F. And you guessed it, a schools grade point average helps its performance. It’s not just grades that are being scrubbed either. In the next few months look for a dramatic decrease in the dropout rate and an increase in F-cat scores at least in science coming soon.

Last year if I had a student who had missed several weeks in a row I could have them withdraw, where this year it’s nearly impossible to do so. I have children on my roles that I have never met, or are in jail and others that I haven’t seen in months and there is very little I can do. What used to be a simple matter of paper work has turned into an ordeal that involves administrators, social workers and the state. Even though just as many kids are dropping out, next year the rate will look a lot better and the perception will be that schools are improving.

Then there is the science f-cat. This year they eliminated the short answer portion of the test, the part of the test that children had been doing the worse on. Instead of having to demonstrate any writing and critical thinking ability, this year’s test was all multiple choice. Rigor has now been eliminated. Now I don’t want to come off as disingenuous. I think the science F-cat which covers four plus years of learning is ridiculous but at the same time if the state points to generous gains on the test they will be being disingenuous too.

Scrubbing isn’t new to education or Duval County either. The district has been scrubbing its grades for years now. The superintendant will gladly tell you that the state ranks us a B district but when you examine how we got there it’s easy to see how that is deceptive. Schools not suspending and having more students take advanced placement tests are two prime of examples that either have no benefit (kids taking A.P. tests whether they are prepared to or not) or cause a detriment (destroying the learning environment by not enforcing discipline) to learning yet at the same time can improve a districts grade.

Scrubbing is all about appearances. It’s all about what schools and districts can do to look better. I imagine they do so because perception often replaces reality and it’s easier. Sadly they have lost sight of what education is supposed to be about and the reality is we are graduating kids ill prepared for adulthood. Things were supposed to be different.

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