Thursday, February 15, 2018

The School Reform We Really Need

The terrible mass murder of children and teachers yesterday in a Florida school may be a warning sign that our schools are lacking in vital instruction that many children need most. It is ironic that the Federal law titled “No Child Left Behind” and its successor law; “Every Student Succeeds” may actually be leaving large numbers of students behind and preventing thousands from succeeding. Maybe nothing could have helped prevent a deranged expelled student from committing this latest atrocity. But is it possible that education policy makers have ignored some of the most needed reforms that could actually save and redirect some of our misguided students?

Louisiana schools and the schools in most other states have been in a constant state of reform since the 90’s.  The Nation at Risk Report of 1983 told us that our schools were failures in educating our children to compete with other countries.  So our policy makers have set about adopting school reforms that are based mostly on wishful thinking rather than real education principles.

Governors, legislators, Congresspersons, and various self-appointed high profile education reformers have focused mostly on an attempt to push all students through a poorly designed college prep curriculum.  Contrary to all evidence indicating that students vary greatly in their interests, talents and abilities, our reforms assume that all students can and should be taught the exact same academic concepts in English, math, science and social studies in lock step. The prescribed academic material in those subjects is measured by standardized testing. Those test scores of students are used to rate schools and teachers but not so much for determining the progress and needs of students from one grade level to the next.

Social science and even DNA data tells us that children enter school with a wonderful variety of abilities and interests other than just academics. Yet almost nothing is done in grades K though 8 to identify each student’s unique talents and interests. The regimentation of our new curriculum does not allow for real individualization of instruction.

Many of our students of today lack a secure and productive home environment. In Louisiana, a large portion (about 40%) of our students are growing up in an extremely deprived environment, often lacking proper nutrition, health care, and most importantly lacking a secure nurturing home life. A huge proportion of students have only one parent and lack positive role models in their lives. Our current school reform efforts have purposely ignored these challenges and assumed that a standardized college prep curriculum would cure all ills. This was a serious miscalculation. Our current reforms are failing the students that need the most help.

In Louisiana, our official accountability policy requires teachers to teach the exact same material to all students at each grade level, regardless of their real progress level. Our plan recently adopted by BESE allows and encourages almost all students to be passed to the next grade each year even if they fail all their tests. That plan instructs teachers to teach remediation and new material all at the same time. It is assumed that formal education alone can close the gaps in student performance and somehow produce college prep for all. This plan is a failure and neglects many thousands of students.

When dozens of schools in the New Orleans school system were taken over by the state as part of education reform, thousands of experienced teachers were fired and cast aside. They were replaced by well meaning, young untrained college graduates who had no real preparation as teachers. These young people were mostly white and came from wealthy backgrounds. These replacements for the experienced teachers could not be role models because they came from a different world. In two or three years most of them returned to their privileged worlds and never made a real difference in student’s lives.

So contrary to the current reform trends, much more needs to be done to train and hire teachers of color particularly for schools serving mostly African American students. Also, it would help to encourage highly respected black men to serve as teachers for the many black male students who have no positive role models. All children need great role models.

There also need to be real efforts to identify the special abilities and interests of our students. They are not all destined to succeed in college no matter how much our leaders wish it. We have already proven that the majority of our students will not attend college just based on wishful thinking.  As my previous post explains, it is a cruel hoax to continue graduating students who are functionally illiterate. Worthless diplomas are one of the results of the current school reform. Thousands of kids are not qualifying for TOPS and their parents, who could not provide them proper food and shelter, certainly cannot afford college tuition!

The common core based curriculum that has been forced on all children is not relevant for even half of our students. Students who regularly average just above 40% correct answers on their state tests are certainly not mastering anything. Many of these kids would be much better off learning practical math and vocational subjects than the highly irrelevant math and English being pushed upon all students.

Finally, instead of constantly drilling students for irrelevant tests, why can’t we allow dedicated teachers and guidance counselors time to talk to students about setting a course for a rewarding future. The coursework for those futures should include intensive training in the use of modern tools used in modern highly paid trades. Germany does this, and has the most advanced manufacturing economy in the world while American manufacturing is dying. Every kid who really wants to take college prep courses should be allowed to do so, but no course should be watered down (as we do now) to pretend that all students are college prep.

Oh, and what can we expect our elected “leaders” to do about school shootings?
Instead of banning assault weapons, my guess is that the gun lobby is going to propose that the way to stop school shootings is to train and arm all children in the use of assault weapons as soon as they can walk. Every kid and teacher could then be handed a gun each day as they enter school so that they could be ready to shoot it out with any school invader. This is insane!