In Part I of this blog, I put forth the theory of pediarchal culture as the root cause of the deterioration of America’s educational system. Pediarchal culture is a culture wherein children rule society. Children rule their parents, usually through love and guilt, and parents cater to the happiness, desires, and whims of their children to their own detriment, especially where education is concerned. Discipline, patience, and respect are sacrificed for instant gratification and excuses replace life-lessons and wisdom. If you missed Part I, I suggest reading it before you continue. This blog, Part II, concerns the reactionary response of school administrative bodies and the excessive and clueless interference by governmental agencies, grasping-at-straws in order to fix a system that wasn’t initially broken (but now is) and to pacify a growing and increasingly angry and controlling population of parents.
But before we get into all that the schools are doing wrong, I’d like to point out a fact that is not commonly taken into consideration regarding the ranking of American schools compared to the rest of the world. Statistics that compare the skill level and test scores of American students with students from high-scoring countries are apples-to-oranges comparisons. The United States is the only country in most of these comparisons to test all students and to consider every student on an academic track bound for college. In many other countries including Norway, Denmark, and Korea, students are split at the high school level into academic tracks and vocational tracks with the best scoring children going into college prep classes and the others not included in the testing. So when we see rankings compared to other countries, it is equivalent to testing all of our students (including students with no interest in college, with disabilities, or with behavior problems affecting learning) with only the honor students of other countries. Now it is true that cultural differences also affect the value of education perceived by students, which in turn affects their level of learning. Certain cultures put a higher societal emphasis on education, grades, and discipline of children. However, it is unfair to judge our school system based on these unequal comparisons.
With that said, our educational system is most certainly in trouble. So whose fault is it? As I said, it is my assertion that a pediarchal cultural shift is the root cause, but because no one is willing to admit this, or take responsibility for changing it, the obvious choice for a scapegoat is the teacher. Parents, more than ever before, are quick to side with their children and blame teachers for failing grades and even behavior problems. Because we now live in a pediarchal culture, parents feel the need to guarantee the success of their child and ensure the child’s happiness at all costs, and if they cannot, which of course they cannot, because it is out of their control, they demand results from the teacher, who in the eyes of the parents, is the only thing standing in the way of their child’s success. To take any responsibility for the failure of their child, would be catastrophic to the image they have built for themselves as “good” parents. To lay the responsibility on the child may hurt their self-esteem, and if they have raised them “right,” the child would never have difficulty with material or behavior problems unless some outside source was causing it. The class must be boring, too difficult, they have a learning disability, ADD, the teacher doesn’t like them, the teacher is not qualified, she is not giving the child individual attention, the teacher is lazy, and on and on it goes.
At first, the administrators and teachers of schools looked inward. Maybe these students were different from students in previous generations. Their lives were more complicated, busy, and full of technology, so maybe they needed to be taught differently. So year after year, one method after another was implemented to reach these students. Administrators demanded teachers learn and teach to every individual student’s “learning style.” Teachers were made to go to training after training to learn how to reach the new generation of students. We were forced to let students with ADD listen to headphones while we taught, or wander about the room because they could not sit still. I’ll never forget the first time a parent told me that their child with ADD had no trouble focusing on things that interested him, but had trouble with things he didn’t care for. Wow! Me too! I think that is called being normal, not having ADD. The difference is that I have self-discipline, so I can force myself to endure what I don’t like, which is how I made it through the remainder of that meeting.
The next trend teachers were forced to implement was the elimination of “tracking,” which has been a disaster. We combined all levels of kids in one classroom to avoid labeling students as low, regular, and high. Teachers were required to plan, implement, and provide feedback on three different types of curriculum in one class. That didn’t work, so now teachers are forced to teach differently and accommodate each individual student. Needless to say, this is utterly impossible, even for an elementary school teacher with 25 students, and beyond the realm of imagination in the reality of a high school teacher who may have anywhere from 170 to 250 students for which they are responsible. And it does not even solve the problem of labeling students. Don’t you think it is obvious who is receiving special treatment when a few students are using notes on a test when no one else can, or has half the questions as everyone else? Everyone knows who is receiving accommodations anyway. If I had all the low kids in one class, I could tailor the lesson to their needs without sacrificing the education of the higher students.
Speaking of higher students, we are forced to write an Alternative Learning Plan for gifted students. This has also been a disaster. These students are usually identified as gifted around 3rd grade. After years of being told that they are gifted, these students often fall behind regular students because they assume they already know everything. We are told that they do not achieve because they find our classes too easy and too boring. It is my job to create something exciting, high-level, and interesting for them to do instead of the boring work at which they are failing. Last year my American Literature classes were exploring how the idea of the American Dream has evolved since the beginning of our country. My regular students were reading The Great Gatsby and writing essays on the subject of the evolving American Dream and whether or not is was achievable. I had one failing but “gifted” student who had to have a special plan. I created an assignment for him to make a “video diary” or “digital storytelling,” a short movie discussing the American Dream today versus times past. He didn’t want to do it alone, so I allowed three other very high-achieving “regular” students to join him in the library to work independently for several weeks. Finally, when it was due, the regular students said the gifted boy refused to work on it at all. After talking to him, he admitted that it was too boring for him, and he would rather write the papers the other students were writing. He threw one together really quickly, turned it in, and failed it. The regular students in the group created a decent project, but on the whole, did not understand as much about the topic as the ones who just stayed in the class and did our “boring” work.
In my opinion, every new trend moves us further in the wrong direction. Maybe students need a break from video games, cell phones, and activities that stimulate them constantly. When I traveled to Barbados, I was surprised that they had a very good school system. I guess I assumed that things would be rather laid back on an island, but that was not the case. In one school, everything was very traditional. Students wore uniforms and sat at a desk while the teacher lectured, they took notes, wrote papers, read books, had recess, repeat. If a student got caught with a cell phone, the administration confiscated it and kept it the rest of the year. Caught twice and the phone was never given back. Education is taken seriously, and parents don’t care if their kids don’t like it because it is good for them. These kids are just as modern and in to technology as ours, but they strangely don’t have a problem with ADD or disrespect.
Not only are teachers constantly forced to learn and implement methods they don’t necessarily believe in, but their workloads have become astronomically time-consuming and time-wasting. In addition to being responsible for stacks of Individual Education Plans, Response to Intervention plans, Individual Literacy Plans, 504s, and other legal documents requiring teachers to do the impossible, teachers are expected to update grades immediately, post them on the internet, update class web sites, send out progress reports, and because it is too much to expect a parent to go online and check on their own child’s progress after a teacher went to all the trouble of posting it, the teacher is then required to personally contact each parent of any student receiving a D or F grade, and to report any behavior problems that may occur. Keeping up with parent contacts alone would easily consume 5 or 6 hours a week of the teacher’s time.
Yet school administrators and the Department of Education continue to put ridiculous requirements on teachers, a workload that is clearly impossible to keep up with, while simultaneously removing all responsibility from students and parents. Government interventions such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the recent onslaught of teacher evaluation bills such as Colorado’s Senate Bill 191 continue to shift the responsibility from student to teacher. However, it is my opinion that these government interventions do nothing to resolve the situation. They are focused on “fixing” the teacher, and the teacher was never the problem. I don’t mean to claim that there are not teachers who lack abilities, knowledge, or motivation to properly teach, but in my opinion, these teachers are the rare exception. By focusing on the teacher, and ignoring the root problem, they are making it worse by robbing good teachers of the time spent in creating good lesson plans and giving effective feedback to students in addition to driving excellently qualified teachers from the profession altogether.
Every year teachers face new expectations, new required methods of teaching, new evaluations, sometimes new state standards, and numerous new requirements in regards to producing evidence to prove they are doing their jobs. Not only does this take valuable time away from already stretched-to-the-breaking-point teachers who are underpaid to the point that many have to find other work to supplement their incomes in order to provide for their families, but it places all of the accountability on the teachers and removes it from both parents and students. By only holding the teacher accountable for student success, it ensures its failure. How many self-motivated teenagers do you know that would take responsibility for their own learning if there were no consequences for refusing to take it? If they knew they were guaranteed to pass anyway, and that someone else would be taking the blame for their refusal to cooperate in their own education? I know there are some, but they are few and far between. Even with the best teachers who have the ability to motivate and inspire students beyond the average, high school students are often un-inspirable. They are too caught up in work, relationships, or even sleeping to care. Many times they are not thinking about the future, and are too immature to realize they are only hurting themselves. They are a product of our culture. Our children have often been given too much too easily, and expect that to continue into their adult lives. Again, there are exceptions, but this is the rule. Recently I gave my juniors a practice ACT test to prepare for upcoming ACTs in April. When many of them failed to receive scores even close to college expectations, their responses were typical. A few of them were concerned and asked what we could do to improve before actual ACTs. Several said they didn’t care because they weren’t planning on attending college anyway, and the rest said it was no problem because they would just attend a junior college that would take anyone. So how is one teacher supposed to motivate 220 students when their own parents cannot? Even in my most popular classes where we engage in meaningful discussion and the topics are easily applicable to their real lives, there will be some students completely uninterested in participating.
Because of this relatively new tendency to place the responsibility solely on the shoulders of teachers, educators are required to jump through ridiculous hoops to prove their effectiveness in the classroom, while at the same time, their hands are tied when it comes to affecting any real change in the system. Teachers no longer have the support of administration in dealing with parents. If a particularly angry parent complains of a grade, it is the teacher who must prove he/she has done everything short of coming home with the student and doing their work for them to ensure their success. When a student is failing, a teacher must put in personal time away from his or her family to tutor the student, type up notes for the student, re-write tests, verbally test, re-test, re-grade, call the parents, meet with the parents, administrators, and special educators to alter the curriculum, and fill out mounds of paperwork to prove that they have exhausted all avenues to help the student succeed. All on top of the regular lesson planning, grading, meetings, committees, activities, and staff development that each teacher is required to attend. If the teacher still gives the student a failing grade, this affects the teacher’s evaluation because “failure is not an option.” Well, unfortunately students know that failure is not an option in most cases because it is not worth the teacher’s time or employment to go through all that and sacrifice the education of the rest just for the students who refuse to take part in their own education. Why wouldn’t the teacher just pass the student? Many do; however, there are also many teachers who are too ethical to do this, so the teacher continues to suffer.
If you believe that the accountability is not primarily on the teacher for results that are out of their control, take a look at Colorado’s teacher evaluation rubric related to the new Common Core Standards. Here are just a few of the ridiculous expectations for which the classroom teacher is responsible even though they have absolutely no control of these outcomes, nor should they have any responsibility for such things.
STUDENTS will routinely:
–Choose challenging tasks and instructional materials.
–Encourage fellow students to participate and challenge themselves.
—Apply coping skills to classroom situations.
–Share coping strategies with fellow students.
–Help fellow classmates by offering support.
–Accept responsibility for their behavior and use of time.
–Help other students stay on task.
–Assume ownership for monitoring their progress, setting learning goals, and
applying teacher feedback to improve performance and accelerate their learning.
–Respect for others.
–Monitor their level of engagement.
–Stay on task during class periods.
–Work without interruption.
–Abide by school and class rules.
–Communicate freely and openly with teachers.
–Respect the uniqueness of fellow students.
–Respect their classmates and teacher(s).
Is it just me, or do these things seem like they should be on a STUDENT evaluation rubric? Unfortunately, I am responsible for these things, not my students, even though it is their behavior.
I realize now that this topic is too in-depth for two parts, and I will post Part III separately. Part III will begin by further examining the teacher evaluation rubric for Colorado, including a list of things that the students’ families will do, except I am the one who is judged on whether or not they do them. Until next time–Christina Knowles
COLORADO STATE MODEL EVALUATION SYSTEM FOR TEACHERS . Colorado Department of Education. http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/TeacherRubric.pdf Accessed: 2/14/14