Saturday, April 02, 2005

Dying Students, Failing Schools

According to a Washington Post article, student Jeff Weise may not have acted alone in the Red Lake, Minnesota school shooting spree that left 10 people dead, including Weise himself. Four other students may have been directly involved in planning the shooting, and as many as 16 others may have known it was going to happen.

Today's Washington Post also includes two thought-provoking columns on the continuing failure of high schools in the U.S. Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education, wrote about the need to extend No Child Left Behind standards to high schools, and Kevin F. Walker reviewed the data on abysmal rates of graduation from high schools.

Red Lake is an extreme example of problems in high schools, of course, but overall trends are depressing. There are those who criticize No Child Left Behind for a variety of reasons. However, it's at least an effort to improve performance in the nation's schools, and until someone comes up with a better idea, it should be supported and expanded.

One thing is certain. Those who promoted "progressive" trends in education over the past few decades were dead wrong. Open classrooms, avoidance of competition, reluctance to recognize and encourage high achievers, tolerance of virtually any kind of misbehavior, inclusion of inappropriate political ideologies, disdain for moral values, and deprecation of concepts such as patriotism have all failed miserably. The time for corrective action is long past.


Blogger B said...

Tom, bear with me while I wander through my thoughts about this. It won't be my most coherent writing, but perhaps it will lead somewhere.
Our public schools are a mess, and a lot of it has to do with lack of discipline. In our perpetual quest for easy answers, we leapt from inappropriate corporal punishment to reckless abandonment. You and I both know that the real answer is not found in either approach. It has to do with teaching our children - teaching them self-discipline and the value of self-respect. I fear what we have done by raising two generations of citizens who have no idea that actions have consequences.

I am less sanguine about the No Child Left Behind program. Three years ago I would have said (and did say) that the way to improve our schools is to increase accountability. But I think now that I was wrong. Working in corporations that have to deal with similar requirements (ISO, etc.) is eye-opening. Accountability and standards perversely produce marginal compliance (and a whole lot of cheating).

Bring It On! has a post here that discusses a report by a bipartisan panel at the National Conference of State Legislators. It proposes improvements to NCLB, many of which include moving oversight and decision-making back to the state level. I sort of can't believe I'm saying this, being a liberal in a moderate's clothing and all, but I'll bet that they are right.

There is a fear, I guess, that oversight at the local level leads to inconsistency. Well, the schools are already manipulating the outcome of the tests at an alarming rate (at least to me). But who better to know the needs of a student than his or her teacher, and who better to know the challenges that a school faces than its administrator? Every child is different. We must (and this problem existed long before NCLB) change our expectations of how we will educate them. By forcing them all into the same track, we end up serving the needs of relatively few. Or at least I think so.

Teach a child as much as he or she can learn. Some will learn more, some will learn less, but they will all learn something valuable. To characterize the ones who learn more slowly or with greater difficulty as "failures" produces children who think of themselves that way. Would it not be better to produce "successful" children?
I guess where it went was where it started. We have to find a way to educate our children. We can't abandon them any longer. I sure hope we figure out a way to do that soon.

8:00 PM, April 02, 2005  
Blogger two_dishes said...

I would like to see each school's curriculum changed to be appropriate to the type of neighborhood the school is serving. I teach in New York. Many of the failing schools are saddled with large masses of students who don't intend to apply to college and don't see the point in studying for it. Making them take my tenth grade chemistry class is useless. There should be appropriate tracks for college bound, nursing bound, and auto mechanic bound kids.

7:41 AM, April 13, 2005  

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