Saturday, June 30, 2012

Isn't the solution obvious?

A local education issue...

From a June 29, 2012 Kingston Daily Freeman article:

"The college president has said about 60 percent of UCCC freshmen need to take remedial math and 40 percent need to take remedial writing, though the numbers vary from year to year."

UCCC refers to Ulster County Community College here in the mid-Hudson Valley.  Most students coming into our community college are simply not able to do college-level work (college-level English and math skills are foundational for all of the science courses I teach, for example).

The article states in the very next sentence:

"And the state Education has reported that only 28 percent of Kingston High School students in the last two graduating classes were fully prepared for college and/or careers, as measured by their performances on math and English Regents exams."

Many of UCCC's students come from the Kingston school district.  The article went on to discuss the college can work with the high school to improve student's readiness for college.  I have no problem with that - it's a good thing.

As a taxpayer, however, I do have a problem with local public schools (Kingston is not unique).  The Kingston City School district spends $17,624 per student each year.  The problem is not a lack of money.  The problem is a lack of accountability.  Not from the teachers - the teachers are accountable to students, parents, administrators, the State Education Department, and the federal Department of Education in many and various ways.

No, I'm talking about holding the students accountable.  If only 28% of Kingston High School students in the last two graduating classes were fully prepared for college and/or careers, as measured by their performances on math and English Regents exams, perhaps only 28% should graduate with a diploma.  Damn the students and parents who would undoubtably raise hell and blame everyone but their precious snowflakes.  If you start with fucking kindergarten, it would be a part of the expectations.  No going to 1st grade until you learn the alphabet.  No going to 2nd grade until you can read simple books and add numbers together (or whatever it is that 1st graders should know).

Then again, maybe this is obvious to me since we homeschool our kids.  We don't use a lot of formal curricula, but we do use one for math (Saxon).  If one of my kids gets a 75% on a math test, we don't just move on (like you do in a public school classroom), we go over everything again to make sure it's understood.  This is necessary because math is cummulative.  If you have a gap in your knowledge about the Revolutionary War, you can still learn about the Civil War.  If you have a gap in your knowledge about fractions, it will keep coming back to bite you in the ass with successively higher level math courses.  With English skills, I believe it's because many kids today simply don't read.  The very idea of reading a book for pleasure is a foreign concept.  If you don't read anything other than ungrammatical text messages, you won't be able to write well.

Knowledge builds on itself.  Without a good foundation, it just gets worse and worse each year and then our community college is supposed to take someone with a 6th grade reading level (when they read, which they don't) and who thinks fractions are advanced math, and remediate them in one or two semesters such that they can be a college student.  Add to this the fact that many of these students aren't even motivated to be there - they hate learning and education and will tell you that.  It's not surprising that it typically doesn't work.  While there are a few success stories, many of these remedial students use up multiple semesters of mom & dad's money, financial aid, and student loans to finally drop out with a transcript full of W, F, and D grades. 

Some students are shocked that they can't pass a course simply by showing up because that's how it worked in their high school.  I'm not exaggerating - students have told me this directly.  I've been told by a teacher at a local middle school that they are not allowed to fail kids more than once.  Even if they completely deserve to fail.  I've been told by another teacher that her distict superintendent initated a discussion on doing away with failing grades altogether - teachers would not be allowed to give a student an F.  In other words, students can not fail not matter what they do (or, more accurately, don't do).

By our shortsighted and permissive educational policies, our fear of offending anyone or holding them accountable, we're dooming a generation of kids to a life of ignorance and stupidity.  We will reap what we sow.


  1. Unfortunately, this nonsense seems to have spread all over the place; check this out...


  2. This is the current manifestation of a trend that started years ago. When I was a Sociology professor at a SUNY 4-year college in the 1960s and 1970s, I had students who complained if they got a B as a final grade--they had never gotten less than an A before, they said.

    My response was, "You earned it."

    I also had students--too many of them, alas--who could not articulate a sentence, either verbally or in writing.

  3. I've always maintained that rhetoric from an old style 'classical' education was a fine and dandy addition to any curriculum; here in the UK there is dire stratification of social class, its as if the Government is delighted there is a worsening sub-class that can barely string two words together. And also the corrosive effects of this new technology can do little but make things worse, fifty years ago poor kids would read a comic, now they get their communication in grunts, oops sorry ... tweets.