Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Schools in Washington, D.C. School System are a Tragedy ... But There are Lessons to be Learned

We the People in our Washington, D.C., public schools spend $27,200 per year per student. That's the largest amount of spending per student in the nation. And Washington's graduation rate is dead last among the states at 59%. See Money for Nothing. Most for least.

But spending the most to get the least is not even the biggest problem we have with the D.C. schools. The biggest issue is that most of those few students who do graduate haven't learned much of anything during their K-12 years spent being "educated." And they're usually totally unprepared to do well in college and later in life as well.

As a society, we have a scarce amount of resources. A certain portion of those scarce resources ($X) will be spent on educating our children. So the question is how much of that $X should be spent on whom and where, and who should make those decisions? Should it be a generalized OPM dumb down approach or individualized MOM rules that we follow?

Simply put, should the $X be spent equally on everyone or should it be targeted where it will do the most good? Where individual students and the larger society will get the most bang for the buck, in other words?

Here's what I say. Why spend it on people who don't show up for school or don't try hard even if they do show up? Why not spend it instead on those who do show up and do try hard? Let's cull the herd and go with the kids who exhibit a willingness and determination to get a quality education, given a chance to do so?

Thus, let's allow the parents and students who do show up and try decide how and where the money  will be spent. Hasn't the government knows best gang already done enough damage? Isn't it time to give individual parents and students control of the $X? After all, their futures are the ones at stake. Let's give MOM a chance.

How Washington, D.C., Schools Cheat Their Children Twice tells a sobering and alarming story. It's subtitled 'Kids who fail their courses go to phony Credit Recovery classes. No wonder so many high-school graduates are at or near a fifth-grade level.'

"I recently bumped into a former student of mine outside the high-poverty public high school where I used to teach math.

(Quaniesha said to her former teacher)  "I gotta start Credit Recovery next week." (Then the description of a hypothetical conversation between the former teacher and student ensued.)

She'd say I failed her in math. Then I'd say no, you failed yourself. She'd say I was a bad teacher. Then I'd ask her how often she had come to class, done her homework, or even brought her notebook and done the class work rather than cursed and fought and joked around. . . .

But if Quaniesha was feigning anger, I was really angry, because the Credit Recovery program she was starting is a fraud . . . .

In Credit Recovery, students who have failed a semester-long course attend a special class after school for a few weeks and magically earn credit for it—without taking a mastery exam. It is a big reason why the 50% of high-poverty, public-school students who actually graduate from high school are generally helpless before a college curriculum.

The dirty little secret of American education is that not only do half of students in high-poverty high schools drop out, but most of those who graduate—as I found in my two years teaching and testing students—operate at about the fifth-grade level in academics, organization and behavior. These graduates must then take noncredit remedial courses should they try to go to college. . . .

Instead of insisting that students retake failed courses and actually work, the school system allows students to take Credit Recovery or equally bogus summer-school courses. Thus students "age-out" of middle school with second-grade skills and "D-out" of high-school courses they rarely attend.

That explains why my so-called precalculus class of seniors last year entered with an average fourth-grade math level, just like my freshmen: They had learned little in the previous three years while "passing" algebra I, geometry and algebra II/trigonometry.

What can be done for the Quanieshas of the world, of whom there are literally millions segregated into the high-poverty public schools of America?

Clearly, if students enter high school with elementary-school skills, graduation is a long shot and college is a mirage. Schools should drop the fraud of pretending they are doing grade-level work. Instead, schools should rework their reading and math curricula to prepare them for trades that can support a family, such as being a bricklayer, hairdresser, plumber, nurse's assistant or computer technician.

From my experience, 80% of high-poverty high-school freshmen are at elementary-school level, which includes the 50% who are going to drop out. The remaining 20% who are within striking distance of high-school standards should have the option to remain in the academic track. These well-behaved and well-prepared students have been cheated of most of their learning time throughout their school careers by the disruption of the disaffected, and they can probably get to grade level—and to college—if the disruption ends. . . .

In any case, when the majority of high-poverty high-school students are within two years of grade level in their skills, then we can try the "college is for everyone" thing again. For now, let's end the fraud of Credit Recovery so students can be taught where they truly are, not at the level where we pretend they are."


Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind and other similar all "hat and no cattle" federal government 'cowboy' sponsored programs should be discarded immediately.

So should the familiar politically charged populist refrain that we'll be able to fix what's wrong with our urban schools by hiring more public school teachers.

It's sad but true that not everybody will take advantage of an opportunity to receive a quality education. That, however, doesn't absolve schools, communities and states from the responsibility to offer everybody that opportunity.

For those who do put forth the effort, society needs to try even harder to give these students the opportunity to succeed. But for those who don't show up or try, we need to refocus our efforts and taxpayer money on the tryers.

In other words, equal opportunity doesn't mean that one size fits all. Equal outcomes must never be the goal. Limiting one person's chance to succeed by pretending to help another person equates to failure.

Let the kids and their parents decide how to spend the vouchers paid for by taxpayers, and let the taxpayers know that their money won't be wasted.

If a student shows up and tries, we must help that student. But if the student doesn't show up or shows up and doesn't try, we need to stop wasting precious taxpayer money and teacher time on that individual and "reinvest" it on those who do try.

In essence three things account for individual success: (1) getting in position (showing up, enrolling, trying out for the team and so forth); time on task (after showing up, spending lots of time practicing, aka working on one's game); and (3) developing the habit of improvement (using that time on task wisely by having access to good instruction which will facilitate continuous and rapid improvement).

But first we have to show up and try.

The rest is easy.

Thanks. Bob.

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