Sep. 19, 2017

Refocusing K-12


Now here’s a subject that should draw widespread criticism.  Why?  Well not necessarily because it is wrong but because it will chafe at the views of the 20% of parents that are truly concerned about their children’s education and are open and vocal while they participate and try their level best to further their children’s progress.  Sadly that leaves 80% which may be getting a disservice.

The question:”How does your school measure up?”  Often the answer is provided in statements like, ”We had 10 students who obtained an AA degree from the local community college” or “We had one of the highest attainment rates on the AP tests.” Sometimes it will be,” We received $1,000,000 in scholarships this year.”  I could go on and on but look carefully at what we’re bragging about.  We are boasting about the 20% of the students who were going to succeed regardless and whose parents were the driving force.

Sadly, what this doesn’t tell us is that the 80% who don’t fall into this category will be facing remedial math and English courses their first year in college because we failed to focus on the fundamentals.  We have placed our best teachers in AP and Dual credit courses for the 20%. We have segregated the classes so that the lower achievers are all in the same classes. We have forgotten that our objective should be K-12 education and not assuming the role of a Junior/Junior college.  Students should be so drilled in the fundamentals that college is less of a challenge and more of a continuing learning experience.

When I taught at the College level I told students not to pick a major until they finished their second year.  That way they would have experienced various classes and be better prepared.  IF the college demanded they declare a major, choose General Studies and then change majors in the junior year.  Yet today we are providing discipline specific CTE classes for 16 year olds who haven’t experienced life and who have questionable academic skills.

The really sad truth is that we don’t understand the problem.  I once had a principal tell me,”Al, not all students will go on to college.”  I asked him to go out in the hallway and point to the student who wasn’t ever going to go to college.  We don’t know, I quit high school and returned to academia ten years later. More importantly is the fact that the same fundamental skills that make you successful in college are needed in most careers. Skills like writing and math, problem solving and attention to detail, are seriously lacking in the lower 80% and will be a hindrance if  they elect to go on to community college, a university, or enter into business.

What we need is a new focus on the fundamentals. Every high school I’ve seen in recent years has an “early release” program where seniors can get out of school early if they have met their credit requirements.  I have a suggestion: Continue the “Early release” program but go back to the ninth grade and FAIL those who aren’t meeting stringent standards and make them retake the course. Then if they reach the senior year with sufficient credits let them have “Early release”.

GRUMPY is not so naïve to believe there’s a simple solution but let’s try to recognize the problem.