Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Public schools and successful students

Several years ago I had an 11th grade student proudly bring his research paper to me with 100/100/100/80 written across the title page. There were no other marks on his entire paper.

As I looked at the 5-page research paper (including the title page), I saw incomplete sentences, capitalized words in the middle of sentences, and numerous grammatical errors. There was no explanation for the teacher's grading. In the student's mind, he was proud of the straight A's that he had received.

My review of the paper told me it was *maybe* third grade work.

I hated to burst his bubble, but felt that he deserved to know that he had not achieved perfection to the point that he had nothing left to learn. Instead, he was way behind his counterparts in other areas of the city. He needed to know what he was up against.

After seeing that paper, I felt a responsibility to address the school--not just for this particular child, but for him and every other student that was taking classes at that school and with that teacher.

I was told I needed to meet with the curriculum instructor because the principal wasn't available to meet with me (though during the meeting, the principal walked through several times). The teacher did not show up at the meeting, though I was told that he would be there. I was never informed as to anything that happened to the teacher or their curriculum as a result of that meeting.

My point was then, and still is now, that we are doing a disservice to our kids by trying to inflate their grades and convince them that they are doing well when they aren't. Educators and administrators do parents a disservice by trying to convince them that their school is "recognized" when their child isn't performing well.

My experience with parents is that they want their children to be able to achieve. They are concerned that their children will be like other people they know who have graduated from high school and still can't read well (I know several people like this myself).

I know teachers and administrators want to keep their jobs...and I know right now is a tenuous time. But convincing people how great they are and being defensive about their shortcomings is not the way to go. It may help them keep their job, but creates a distrust from parents who think their child is on track and then finds out later he/she isn't. It creates a society of children who think they are doing better than they really are. It creates groups of students who want to go to college and think they are prepared for it, then realize they have to be enrolled for a year or more in developmental classes and then find out they can't meet the expectations of college work.

I know that teachers and administrators want to keep their jobs...but their job and first commitment is supposed to be to our children...our future leaders. Is there a way to do both?
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