Monday, June 3, 2013

A shameful last week of school

As I've noted in some previous bits, I have three children. The oldest is fifteen and in high school (9th grade), the middle one is twelve and in middle school (7th grade), and the youngest is in elementary school (Kindergarten). So yeah, I have three schools to deal with, three different starting times, three different ending times, three PTAs, three sets of administrators, and so on. But I'm not really complaining. I'm not super-active in all three schools, though I do help out, go on some field trips, help with some events, et cetera. Mostly, I'm involved with the elementary school. And it's only fair: the older two--when in elementary school--saw me put in a lot of time at their school. The youngest deserves the same, I think.

Despite me not being all that active at the middle and high schools, however, I do know what's going on. I track my kids' grades online, I read the e-mails and hand-outs I receive from the schools, and frankly both older kids tell me what they are doing (usually over dinner). Therefore, I know what they've been up to during the last week and what they will be doing this week, the last week of school for all three of them: nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. They're even being told not to bring book-bags--let alone book and notebooks--these last few days.

The youngest--the one in Kindergarten--had a field trip to a bowling alley today for the end-of year-class party, has "board game day" tomorrow, "pajama day" on Wednesday, then graduation ceremonies on Thursday. The classroom is--for all intents and purposes--no longer functional. Everything is packed up. But it is Kindergarten. A few fun days to end the year isn't really all that bad. And the teacher--to her credit--is still having the kids do some writing and math handouts each day. But I fear this is not common, that its the exception rather than the rule. Homework has come to a full stop, and homework is distributed by the Kindergarten teachers as a group.

The other two, as I noted above, are being told not to bring anything school-related to school, apart from their lunches. Exams are over, the schools are in full shut down and clean up mode. And in that regard, there is no learning taking place. Zero. Nada. Zilch. So the question must be asked: why are they still in school? Attendance policies are far from lax at public schools in Miami-Dade County. In fact, my daughter cannot miss another day this quarter without triggering an automatic SARB event (school attendance review board). She's a straight A student in AP courses in an IB program. So despite some health problems earlier in the year--which had no impact on her grades--she's on the edge, attendance-wise.

Where is the sense in any of this? There are--again--no learning-type activities taking place, no more tests, no more quizzes, no more anything. Who cares if the students even bother to show up this last week or so of school? Well, the schools care, because funding is tied to attendance numbers, so they can't have a massive drop off in the latter or else they risk the same for the former. Silliness.

So why has teaching come to a grinding halt? Because teachers apparently want to be done at the same moment as the students. They don't want to have any more grading to do or the like; they want the books closed completely on such things before school ends. And they want to have their classrooms all packed up, thus saving them having to come to school after the school year is over. And the administration is obviously okay with all of this, both at the school level and the county-wide level. The state-wide level too, I guess.

A common complaint among teachers at the start of new school years is the lack of retention by students of the previous year's material. Teachers often note that they spend the first month or so of school playing catch-up, reviewing material from the previous year's classes. This may very well be a legitimate complaint. But how does stopping teaching for one to two weeks prior to the end of the school year help in this regard? If teachers have actually completed all of their lesson plans for the year, they could spend the last two weeks...wait for it...reviewing the year's material (and to be fair, it's possible some teachers do exactly this, but again they would seem to be exceptions, not the norm).

There is an awful lot of analysis out there--most of it critical--on the consequences of high stakes testing for students, schools, and teachers. And there's also a lot of talk about educational standards and how U.S. children appear to be falling behind children in many other first-world countries. Blowing one to two weeks of the school year for no good reason does what in this regard?

We often see the past imperfectly, remembering things like our school years in ways that suit our current views and feelings, as opposed to remembering them how they actually occurred. That's human nature. But I know I was still taking notes in high school when the end of the year was near. Maybe not on the very last day, but certainly during the last week. My mother--a former teacher and principal--remembers things similarly, both with regard to her own school years and those she spent working in schools. In fact, I can remember going with her after school was out to her school--where she was the principal--for many days after that moment; she and her staff--including teachers--were busily packing up their classrooms and finalizing grades. Why? Because they were still teaching their children when school was in session. There was no time to do these other things.

Now?

I hate saying it, but it seems like schools are often being run for the benefit of the teachers and administrators, moreso than for the benefit of the students. And I say this knowing many excellent, committed, and caring teachers (and administrators) at all three schools that I deal with. But such people are being conditioned by the system, based on instructions and leadership (or lack therof) from above. And that's a real shame. Though it's not as shameful as a meaningless final week of school.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. I will say it again. Public schools have more interest in normalization than education. Yes, the system exists to feed the system, and children are not so much the focus as the marketing tool used to beg for more money.

    Colour me cynical on this one.

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