Saturday, October 17, 2009

Changing our schools

I spoke with a colleague today, and she was flabbergasted at how low skilled her students were in her 11th grade Integrated Communications class. Many of the students could barely read; in fact, one student had yet to pass a class at LC--yet he is somehow in a junior class. This is social promotion gone to a ridiculous extreme. This student is failing himself, but we, as a school system, are not doing anything to help this student the way he needs it.

I, too, have had a wide range of students in my class. For instance, in my 6th period junior Advanced Placement (remember, this is AP!) class, I had two students admit that they didn't know what a pronoun was.

The fact is, our students are mishmashed together into classes and socially promoted, and from one year to the next, we have no idea what skills these kids attain.

Now that the district is moving to a standards-based grading system, we should now be moving toward a standards-based curriculum.

Here is how it might work:

First, let's make all classes have an exit test that is the same between all classes, and the student may not move on to the next English class until the previous one is completed adequately.

The first class freshman year should be reading comprehension. It should be a semester long class. By the end of the semester, the student should test out at grade level. If not, the student takes it again. Clearly the danger here is that we will have a student taking this class multiple times. But what service are we doing passing students on to another class if they CAN'T read at grade level? This model would require many of the English teachers to teach this class, but it would be so standardized that it would be a simple prep for the teachers.

If the student does pass, the second semester class would be expository writing. If the student is able to write an acceptable essay (maybe a WASL style prompt? An SAT style prompt), the student has completed the first year of English.

For those students ready to take the next step, the class could be grammar and vocabulary. The assumption is that if a student is reading at grade level and can write an essay, he should be able to pass this class, so retention will not be as much of an issue.

The fourth class (second semester of the sophomore year) could be an analytical reading class, which puts all the pieces together, presenting students with challenging texts and requiring them to read them analytically, using SAT and AP style multiple choice sections as well as having the students write analytical essays about their readings.

If a student can pass through all four classes, we can be assured the student has a solid foundation. Junior and senior year would change too, as the need for an IC class would be diminished. Students up for the extra challenge could take AP, and other students could take College Prep English. At this point, College Prep would TRULY be a college preparatory class.

I'm just thinking while I type, so I clearly haven't thought out all of the ramifications. But I think it's a discussion we need to begin.


Rob Archer said...

Keep a'typing. I like how you're thinking.

Now, just convince those in the Ivory Tower that you know what you're talking about.

Eric said...

I sent this to my DH over a week ago and asked him to bring it up with our principal, but I haven't heard a word from either one of them. Maybe I kicked them right in the brainballs.

Eric said...

Here is an email exchange I had with someone over this:

I completely agree with you on this. As I think about it, I’m stumped to think of any reason NOT to use this at the HS level. If kids are going to go beyond HS and into college, advancement based on achievement is going to be the standard of their success. (as in their professional careers)

I really think that the adoption of the social promotion system in our schools is churning out a generation of entitlement and mediocrity. I’ve seen NUMEROUS kids, as early as 3rd grade, who have learned that they really don’t need to do anything and can repeatedly fail every assessment and NEVER be held accountable. At these early grade levels, I COMPLETELY understand that there are differences in development and that every kiddo is learning at their own rate. So what do we do? We need to instill a least some sense of responsibility and accountability in these kids but still allow them to develop at their own individual rates. At what grade level should we be applying achievement based advancement? Would 6th be too early?I really think that it needs to start in middle school. At this point, children should be able to make a more cognitive connection between their efforts today to their promotion at the end of the year.

But then what? What if a child STILL fails, or refuses to achieve? Do we put them out on the street; pat them on the back and say, “Good luck, fucker! Go back home to your abusive, alcoholic parent and get on with your resentment and addictions.”

Eric said...

Then I said:

I think that's when we set up a work training track that is an honest apprenticeship program. Not every kid can write an essay. Let's teach them how to wire an outlet, fix a car, or roof a house. That's what most other developed countries do with their schools.

We should still teach those kids, but we should stop trying to fit the square peg (a kid who will never read and write at a college level) into a round hole (a college preparatory curriculum). Isn't there another type of curriculum that teaches things other than essay writing, which is of limited utility in places other than college?