Education Problem of our own Making?

Orange County, FL has become the second school district I know of that has decide that giving students a zero on a assignment causes the kids to lose hope of passing so they just quit.  To address this problem, the worst grade you can give them is a 50 instead of a zero.  That way they can recover from one missed assignment.  Huh?!?!  No, you read this right.  The school superintendent was quoted in the SunSentinel as saying that only 43 percent of the students who received a 50 actually recovered to pass the class with a D.  I have several questions.  First, how does this policy teach these kids any responsibility?  For the kids that do their work, how is that fair?  What message does this policy send to the kids?  Be a lazy dumbass and do nothing and you can still pass?  That reinforces the concept of entitlement which we all agree is a problem in society that we need to overcome.  Finally, if one missed assignment causes the kids to fail, why are there not more assignments so missing one is not fatal?  That is what happens with my students (who still get a zero for not doing an assignment).

It would seem that such a policy is not based on an educational goal but more like a political one to improve school perception.  That is as bad an idea as having kids beg for money for uniforms and class trips etc.  Kids do not sell anything they just beg for money.  So are we teaching them that begging and panhandling is an acceptable career?  Seriously what impression does that provide to these young minds?  How does either experience prepare kids for the real world where doing nothing gets you fired, not rewarded, and begging for money vs actually work is also not rewarded.

Once upon a time, education was the purview of the wealthy.  American businesses argued that a basic education was needed to train a workforce for industrial jobs.    The American public education system was created with this in mind- to train the next generation of workers.  With education came great social and economic advancement.  We clearly are deviating from that goal.  Students need a good foundation in math, writing and reading (in English!), civics and science so they understand social responsibility, can communicate, understand how things work the world and can solve complex problems.  They do not need pseudo-science or politicized science, but real science.  Business understands this.  But where is the business community on job training in schools?  It would seem the business community has abdicated their responsibility to local districts who are trying to meet political goals, not economic goals.  Why are we not using all the extensive testing to figure out the strengths of students and encourage them to play to those strengths? Not every kid can go to college, or should, but that does not mean they cannot achieve or be successful.  They may need different training to hone their strengths.

Back in the day my Dad told me that as the education system was developed in his hometown of Detroit, students were given aptitude tests.  I was also.  The kids were divided up based on skills and aptitude.  Students were even sent to different schools as they got older that tailored programs to their interests and skills set.  Kids that the schools system felt had the aptitude to succeed in college had different courses than students that were less academically included but perhaps more mechanical, more artisan, more labor, clerical, etc.  Different kids go training to help them succeed with their skills.  Less academic did not mean less inclined to succeed or be successful. just differently.  And they had a better chance to be successful.  We seem to miss that today.

Today we have parents insisting that everyone be treated the same, and that no kid gets left behind.  But putting kids with different aptitudes, maturity, and academic inclinations in one class is destined to either fail for all, or fail for everyone but the average.  Such a protocol begets policies like Orange (and Broward) County that direct teachers to adjust grades so “Little Johnny” doesn’t feel bad.  Extensive college prep testing and disconnected learning discourage the less academic kids, leading to dropping out, or other behaviors.  Such policies and expectations by parent and political leaders are not helpful for building an educated society.  Instead we need to search further into the root causes.  Are there too few assignments?  Are they too disconnected for students to appreciate?  Should we sort out strengths and treat different students differently to discourage disinterest?  How do we assess their strengths and design programs to help students succeed.   And who takes responsibility for these kids?  And perhaps we should revisit some of the lessons learned from the early years of the industrial development (1930s) to figure out what they did well, and see how policies today frustrate those goals.  Maybe the way forward is rooted in the past.


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