Race to the Top
I entered the public school system in 1928 and remained in it for my formal education. The grading system then was E for excellent, G for good, F for fair and P for poor. The E students made up about 5 to 10% of the classes, a few more were G students and the rest were many fair with a few P students. Since that time we have had 100s of programs with fancy names as a means of turning the F and P students into G and E students, but still have about the same ratio in our schools and society today. We have better educated and well trained teachers today which has made little change in this ratio.
The latest proposed solution is “Race to the Top.” In simple terms this reform movement would set international standards, benchmarks and assessments, recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals (Merit pay), building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices, turning around our lowest performing schools by firing the principal and 50% of the teachers, turning them into charter schools, while most haven’t been proven anymore successful than public schools. The Charter School TV film used to sell Charter Schools is a 24 hour school day where children only go home on weekends. They also have class sizes of ten. With all these benefits they still have a 10% failure rate. How many school districts can afford this?
This all sounds good if you say it fast, but it seems I’ve heard this song before. To have a fair race to the top all classrooms and schools must have the same starting line. Each school and class room must have an equal distribution of students with the same range of IQ scores, socio economic backgrounds, children whose primary language in the home is not English, same number of disruptive students, same class sizes, same materials and equipment etc. This would even the field so schools, teachers and student progress could be fairly evaluated. We all know these alterations will never take place, so comparing school and teachers by standardizing testing will be of little value.
“Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school or teacher is better than another? Forgetting the problems corporations have creating a test that measures the curriculum and objectives, with the variety of textbooks used nationally, make the validity of these tests questionable. Teachers under the pressure to score well on these tests, especially in math and reading must often neglect giving proper and important attention to language arts, science, history, civics and the arts. It seems logical that each school district should evaluate their students by giving periodic diagnostic tests measuring their goals and objectives for their students.
Cognitive ability, personality and motivation come mostly from home. Children spend most of their waking hours at home where their education starts and is formed. What happens in the classroom can have some effect, but smart and motivated children will tend to learn. Even with the best instruction, not so smart or unmotivated children will lag behind. The recent rage is putting the alleged failure of schools on the shoulders of teachers, but teachers are only one part of a child’s education. Unless we exam all aspects of a child’s life, politicians will keep funding failing programs.
The President and Secretary of Education’s Race to the Top is another fantasy program that will be as successful as the hundreds of former well intentioned dreams to solve a complicated problem. The best thing we could do for education is keep politicians out of it. In place of these fancy federal programs just send block grants of this money to the schools according to need and let the professionals in the schools design their own programs according to the social makeup of their district. A better use of this money would pay parents in low economic areas to attend class in how to build and prepare their children for school.
The big rage in life has become a college education while in reality less than 50% of high school graduates are college material. Individuals all have different skills and aptitudes not learned in school. All children are born on third base. Many are born on First base while some are still at home plate.
Now that I have one foot over the finish line I wonder if I made the right choice in choosing so much formal education. All I wanted in life was a nurturing wife, a family, a dog and a small house with a white picket fence. I now have all but the white picket fence, but could have had them without a college education and with less stress.