May 30, 2006

Why Is It So Difficult to Take Responsibility

In today's Charlotte Observer we learn that West Charlotte High, a perenially failing school, decided to finally do something about its low test scores.

With a projector propped on a stack of textbooks, [the principal] began flashing 2005 End of Course test results onto a rippled screen.

At the top: Providence High, with 86.6 percent passing.

As Modest reached the middle, chuckles and comments rumbled from the freshmen.

When he got to dead last, the noise was a dull roar, much of it laughter.

West Charlotte: 37.1 percent.

"I don't think this is funny, folks," the new principal said.

"This is the last time we're going to be at the bottom of the list."

...

Year after year, West Charlotte's scores have been among the state's lowest. Four principals in the past decade have tried to change that. Each failed.

So what's the problem?
[The principal] didn't know hundreds would arrive without having mastered eighth-grade math and reading.

Where did they get this guy? Mars? What educator doesn't know that kids in low-SES high schools come in lacking many skills they should have mastered in elementary and middle school? And, did you notice the skillful use of passive voice to obfuscate the cause of this failure, the lower schools these kids came from.

So what did they try to do? First, they tried to high better teachers, but ...
Not a single qualified teacher has signed up for West Charlotte. "That's heavy right there," Modest said, sounding stunned.
Such is the price you pay when you fail to properly educate at least the past two generations of students from these areas.

Then they switched to plan B:
As the school year draws to a close, the principal is still pushing a two-pronged mission: Get students to take responsibility for their own success. And get teachers to believe in students.
So, the students have to take responsibility for learning while the teachers don't quite have to take responsibility for teaching. They just have to "believe in students." I suppose believing is better than nothing.

I'm wondering how a student is supposed to take responsibility for learning if the teaching isn't any good. Isn't good teaching, which starts with teachers taking responsibility for teaching well, a prerequisite to any student learning?

9 comments:

SteveH said...

If schools cannot or will not define education in any sort of tangible way, then they are not about to take on responsibility in any tangible sort of way. They think that their responsibility ends when they have brought the horse to water.

Some teachers are very earnest and hard-working. Some take on a certain level of responsibility. But this is not a school mandate that is tied to a specific curriculum and year-to-year goals. NCLB tries to do this, but the end result still comes down to the lowest common denominator expectations.

The major problem in our schools is that they will not separate kids by ability and set high enough grade-level goals for all. With full-inclusion, a school cannot define grade-level expectations and therefore, will not assume any responsibility on a full curriculum level.

Progressive education is defined as a process with minimal content and skill requirements. Beyond learning to read and doing simple math, education is poorly-defined, and the responsibility of education is in the hands of the student. They don't want schools to teach. They want students to learn.

By definition.

Catherine Johnson said...

Where did they get this guy? Mars?

chortle

Do we have any stand-up comics ragging on the schools?

We need them.

Catherine Johnson said...

did you notice the skillful use of passive voice to obfuscate the cause of this failure, the lower schools these kids came from

yes!

I'm going to start keeping a collection of TPVs

fyi: Reading WAR AGAINST GRAMMAR this weekend I learned that the reason passive voice is one of the few topics covered in ELA classes is Orwell's Politics and the English Language

Catherine Johnson said...

My sister taught years ago. She told me recently, "I always felt like if my kids got a bad grade, that was a grade on me." (She's never read this website, and hasn't thought about ed politics. She just spontaneously said this.)

Not surprisingly, my sister was probably the best teacher in her school. The principal decided to start keeping track of how kids were doing in the different classes, and it turned out her kids always did the best.

She was constantly checking to see if they knew what she'd taught.

Catherine Johnson said...

Get students to take responsibility for their own success. And get teachers to believe in students.

omg

that's horrifying

Since I've been reteaching myself math for nearly two years, I've given a bit of thought to the limits of self-teaching.

I'm not sure a child can do much self-teaching at all - at least, not without a superb textbook.

I'm finally getting to material I either wasn't taught in high school, or wasn't taught very well, and it's a different ballgame - not because I'm not 'responsible,' but because, not knowing the material, I can't judge whether I'm learning it correctly now.

Obviously, I have a lot of resources to call on. I can ask questions at ktm, I can consult other books I've purchased, I may even buy a fourth algebra 1 textbook entirely as a check on what I (think) I'm learning from Saxon & Dolciani.

A middle school child can't do any of these things. A middle school child isn't even going to know that he should.

Old Grouch said...

(Sorta) OT- Fort Wayne (IN) is killing their most-underperforming middle school: Giving Up on Geyer.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Old Grouch.

That sounded like good news until I read:

"Over the summer, Geyer will be spiffed up, renamed and converted into a magnet Montessori program serving a different population."

Exactly what this neighborhood doesn't need.

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, Montessori could be OK depending on whether the people who operate the school are faithful to her vision.

I'm not well versed in her work, but my sister, who was a superb teacher, admires her tremendously.

Montessori was the first person to show that mentally retarded children could learn.

You have to be serious to do that.

Old Grouch said...

Judging from the previews for the follow-up articles, it looks like we're due for yet another round of blaming the students and ed-speak. (The Star is one of Gannett's mid-market papers, with all the superficiality that implies.) I'll be amazed if anyone interviewed bothers to point out that middle-school problems stem from elementary-school failures.