Monday, March 02, 2009

For Mr. Anonymous


A snow day left me plenty of time to comply with Mr. Anonymous' request to post about what is wrong with the American education system. I'm happy to oblige with my opinions. He's hoping others will post their comments as well. He is really trying to figure out a way to best help our kids and no matter how much I bitch and moan about the system, that is my goal as well. I only hope that Mr. Anonymous does not get too pissed off when he reads my comments.

One of the things I find wrong with our education system is the amount of money being spent on remedial programs and credit retrieval programs, programs that only benefit the lower end of our population. Now, I am not saying that I don't want to help these kids, I do. In fact, these kids happen to be the ones I love the most. But, I hate seeing so many resources being spent on them that the other kids are being left out.

Years ago, Packemin HS had three sections of double period AB calculus classes and two sections of double period BC calculus classes. We had over 150 kids taking college level mathematics. Today we have two sections of AB calculus (classes meeting only 7 or 8 periods a week) and only one double period class of BC. We now have only about 90 kids taking these classes. The reason for these cuts--money. The cuts began the year we had to start offering Math A double period. There was just not enough money in the budget for everything. Something had to give and that something was calculus. Sorry upper level kids, you just aren't as needy. You already have all the credits you need to graduate, our money has to go somewhere else. There is no money for AP calculus tutoring. Any extra funds go towards remedial tutoring and just trying to push the bottom end toward graduation. While there is nothing wrong with that, the top kids need help too.

AP classes in other subjects have been cut as well, and are offered fewer periods a day. Students have to pick and choose which classes they will take. In the past, the good kids could take it all. Now they are restricted because of class availability. This, is another thing wrong with the system today.

Mr. Anonymous, you write about poor graduation rates and having to outsource so many jobs overseas. You write about having to import engineers and doctors. You write about the United States being unable to keep up with foreign countries. You fail to write about the attrition going on in places like China , where kids are tested out of school at an early age, sent to work in factories and on farms because they are not smart enough to go on. Here in the United States, we think everyone is college material and instead of concentrating our resources on the bright, we are spreading ourselves thin by pushing a college education on everyone.


Mr. Anonymous, you write that the drop out rate in the United States is abysmal. That is true. It might be better if we taught more relevant courses. The one size mentality of education does not work. Not everyone can and should go to college and no matter how unpopular the idea is, tracking is necessary. Obama wants everyone to go to college for at least one year. He should open his eyes and see how many of these college graduates cannot get jobs. He should see how many kids graduate college and then decide what to do with their lives. I was talking to a young man tonight who wants to be a physical therapist. The school has led him to believe he can. This boy is a senior that still needs to pass his global and history regents. He squeaked by in math and he is passing English on his charm. Wouldn't he have been better off in a vocational program somewhere? This boy is fortunate. He comes from a home with parents who value education and have worked with him to keep him in school. He's motivated but he is just not book smart. A different education path might have been better for him. Others in his situation might have been long gone.

Mr. Anonymous, education snobs only respect the book educated. Some people are not interested or do not have the ability to be book educated. I don't know about you, but I am a princess, I like going to a restaurant and having someone pour my coffee and cook my food. I like someone cleaning my toilets so I don't have to. Education today does not teach us to respect these people. If we pay them well, treated them like equals, we will always have them to do the jobs we don't want to do. It is up to the education system to teach that all men and women are created equally and that the job the custodian does is equally as important as the job the Principal does, although they are both very different jobs.

Lastly Mr. Anonymous, education today does not teach responsibility. Kids remember to bring I-pods and cell phones to school but not calculators, pens and notebooks. They miss their period one class because they overslept and it is not their fault. They fail math because the teacher is no good. I could go on and on but you get the point, they take no responsibility for their own actions and we teach that it is okay because we supply them with calculators and excuse their lateness and give them credit recovery programs to make up the gym class they were too lazy to attend in the first place.

I'm sure I left out lots of things and I am hoping others out there can add a few.

We as educators can't change the entire system. We have no control over the curriculum the state insists we teach. If geometry and chemistry are mandated, we must teach them. We can water them down and make them as simple as possible, but they must be taught. They have no relevance in the child's life, but that is too bad. They need the diploma and these courses are the firewall they must break through to get it. We can't change the world but at the very least we can teach them the responsibility of working and trying. Without that effort, we have taught them nothing and we have given them a piece of paper that is as worthless as confederate money at the end of the Civil War.

9 comments:

Miss Eyre said...

Can I just say that I agree with everything you have said?

NYC HS History Teacher said...

I was going to create my own blog, probably still will. But it will be pretty much everything you said up there. Well done!

Going to college doesn't mean you are smart. It means you went to college. I don't care what anyone says. I have friends who make more money as electricians than I ever will.

Anonymous said...

I may have to answer this post with a few separate entries.

1st Point:

Vocational Education is not dead. It was destroyed in the 70's, was on life support during the 80's and by the 90's many people had ripped out millions of dollars worth of vocational classrooms, shops, auto shops, etc. in schools that Vocational Education as we knew was basically gone. However, it has made a resurgence in education under a new name. Now referred to as Career & Technical Education, CTE is being seen as a viable educational pathway that both the Federal Government and NYC are investing in. The Mayor created a task force on CTE education to further develop existing programs and create new programs in schools around NYC. There has been a great deal of resources invested in this direction, so much so, that out of the 13 new schools opening in NYC 3 of them will be CTE schools. There are already 4 CTE schools in Queens that students can choose to go to.

The curriculum is rigorous and students graduate with High School Diplomas and a distinction in their CTE program. The key there is people have bought into interdisciplinary learning and project base / hands on learning. ( I will get into this points later and why this direction is necessary for the future of education.)

Ok, back to why Vocational education was destroyed. Vocational education was turned into a dumping ground. Kid acted up... put him in voc. ed. classes, kid had difficulty in math, he wasn't smart enough for a diploma put him voc. ed., etc. Get where I am going with this. Administrators & educators alike made decisions on student's lives they should not have made. In addition, they stigmatized Vocational Education that just about every parent in NYC shuttered at the thought of having their child involved in Vocation Education as it was seen for “losers”. ( This didn’t happen everywhere, BOCES in certain areas were crowned jewels of some educational systems.)

Students today have choice. They can very well go to CTE schools to learn trades. However, certain schools will never bring back shops. Most schools will focus on new trades, such as desktop publishing, web design, programming, engineering, sports management, law, and so many more pathways in which can get involved in that don't require shops. See http://www.careerclusters.org/ to see the federal government initiative of the new face of voc. ed. or now referred to as CTE.

You see, I will tell you a personal story about a kid who may have described as not bright or whatever you want to call the kid. You see David never said much and was completely unengaged with school. When I met him he was close to 2 years behind grade level. He came from a poor family etc. I met David on a whim when he walked by my classroom and saw that I had a computer in pieces on a desk and was trying to figure out what was wrong. He asked me a couple of probing questions so I asked if he knew how to fix it and he said he could try. I left him there with what was basically trash and when I came back I had a working computer. You see David was a prodigy of sorts, with Credit Retrieval & recovery we got David out of school in 2 years and into college where he is studying computer science. I can go on & on about students who have succeeded at the highest levels of achievement based on tapping into something that caught their interest and using that as a hook to drive them to those high levels of achievement. David might have been written off by some people, but David just needed a reason to see why he needed to get a high school diploma and go to college. He was now motivated.

Ok, so I agree with you. The fact that so many resources are invested into our "lowest third" of the school's population that the upper level kids lose out to a certain degree. However, not investing in these students now only mean we continue an endless cycle of having students who decide that they aren’t smart or can’t succeed in education. Eveyone can succeed if we redefine what success is. We can change that, but what has to change is the attitude in educators on our approach to how we teach kids. ( Again, I will expand on that at a later time.)

I do believe that our entire educational system is flawed. In most of Europe students go to their 9th & 10th grade years for a basic foundation in education. They then have choice as to what they want to pursue and go on to a formal education that includes internships, apprenticeships, high level courses and better curriculum alignment with their career choice.

I believe we can replicate a system like that in a typical (large) high school. Small schools simply can recreate this. But I also believe that we can achieve what small schools are intended to do ( personalize a student's education) in a large comprehensive H.S.

I am done for now, I know I must really sound like an administrator but I think of myself as an educational scientist. I will follow up with the rest of my thoughts later.

Pissed Off said...

Mr. Educational Scientist--you said more eloquantly than I could exactly what I am feeling about education today.

I wish you were running the city and could create moe of these CTE programs.

Kids like David need a reason to go to school.

Education is for everyone. We just need the right kind of education, which is not being offered today. I am going to publish your comment as a positn all itself. Thank you for writing.

Anonymous said...

I have to share my experience in one of the more depressed neighborhoods years ago at Lorraine Hansberry Intermediate School in the neighborhood known as Morissania, but locally considered part of the "South Bronx". Many of the kids aspired to go to vocational high schools such as Chelsea Vocational, the High School of Graphic Arts, or the High School of Printing. Perhaps if the city had truly invested in our children, those schools would have been still open, but aligning those careers with the ever more technological 21st century. The truth was that these schools were very expensive, with costly equipment to acquire and maintain. "Racism" was one reason used to eventually, and unfortunately, close those schools and remove opportunities for those kids. It's true that possibly more minority kids were directed toward more vocational, less academic settings. On the other hand, no matter what neighborhood is considered, not every kid can become an engineer, but that kid might be able to fix a computer or an airplane. My hope is that we can move our kids intellectually as well, and balance the vocational, the intellectual, and the artistic in our new approaches to education. We still need informed citizens who can read more than functionally and analyze information in order to make sound decisions that will preserve our democracy and not follow the drone of corporate boardrooms. We also need educators making more decisions in education, not data czars and prosecutorial lawyers. We should negotiate genuine partnerships with corporations, not just contracts.

Newbie said...

I'm just starting out in this whole education shindig and while I'm not quite as jaded as you -I've been reading your blog for a while and feel I can say that ;). The greatest problem I've run into so far is just attitude. The students in my school think they can pass and go on to college based on their "beautiful" personalities because they have... it is such a disservice and now I have a reputation as the mean newbie because I refuse to accept excues and I grade them honestly. They have a program at our school to get the students graduated no matter what it takes. It has rendered grades useless. They will pass anyway. These problems are the reason why a quarter of my students actually turned in a high-point assignment. That said, I have no idea how to fix that problem. I guess I just keep trying and hope for the best.

mathman42 said...

As someone who worked in industry for many years before teaching I have somewhat different perspectives but support all of the above comments. We barely support one AP Calculus class with 20 students out of schools totalling maybe 2000. Not for lack of money but for lack of capable students. Having no Regents honor classes will do that.
If you want to see state Math exams that are well constructed look at Massachusetts or California. Our Integrated Algebra is a travesty.

Obama should have included post HS vocational, technical, or call it what you want training in his stimulus package for all gradutaes with averages under 75 before they waste their time on college work they are ill prepared for. Or make another metric along the same idea. Rather than have make-believe credit recovery put them in another environment with P/T work in social service or health care along with a skills program and make it HS equivalency upon completion. We need creativity not the SOS.

NYC HS History Teacher said...

Maybe offer kids more options. I have plenty of students at my school who really don't want to be here, and when I say they don't want to be here, I mean, they'd rather be at another school. Perhaps if the mayor had more options, these kids would choose schools that fit their needs better.

As far as I know, we have very little in the way of AP programs. I don't know about other subjects, but we only have AP US History, no Euro AP. We used to have Euro AP, but the guy teaching it (psst the A.P.) decided it was too hard for him.

We've offered solutions, maybe creating an honors World History class that would mostly focus students on the skills needed to adequately take a Euro AP class. But it seems whenever such an idea is brought to the fore, it's shot down over "budget" cuts. And I am not talking this year, we brought this to them last year. So, as long as administrators continue with the "we don't have the money" mantra, we will continue to go down this road.

The Bus Driver said...

well said!