Monday, December 08, 2008

America's Schools Are Like The Latest Diet Gimmick

I sat through more meetings today. I work at a Title 1 school where almost every student is given free lunch and English is their second language. Quickly stated, most of the sixth graders I teach are one to four grades behind their peers in suburban schools. I used to teach in suburban schools, and they have their own set of issues, but I will just speak of my present situation.

Each year, my school faces the threat of our AYP scores not being high enough. AYP stands for Adequate Yearly Progress. Progress is defined as getting to the target of all children being proficient by 2014 to make No Child Left Behind a success.

In our meetings, we stress over how we are going to make it to the ever-moving- forward scores that will deem us a good school. However, as I sit through meetings and hear the rhetoric, I can't help but be reminded of the latest diet program or multi-level marketing scheme.

There is always some new program, pill, or book on the market that is going to make it EASY for all of us overweight people to trim down. I am 40 years old now, so I have seen a lot of these come and go. However, we all know that the people who really keep the weight off are those who WORK and KEEP AT IT. It is the simple equation of burning off more than you take in. Eat less or exercise more, but those are really the only solutions. Anything else is just a gimmick.

I have known friends and been approached by friends who are starting a new "business". They always have great stories of someone else who has made a lot of money selling this product from home. They have grand plans of retiring in the next 5 years once the "business" has been built up. Soon enough though, it peters out and they are on to the next great opportunity. The truth is, building any kind of wealth requires hard WORK and a willingness to delay gratification.

Schools are also looking for the latest thing that is going to make all of our scores turn around. However, similar to the diets and multi-level schemes, people want proficient students but it is not in the plan to have the students commit to work in any way. As I sit through meetings I hear about how we are going to adjust our minutes this way and restructure our day that way. We are going to test and monitor and diagnose and collect data. We state a dozen and more things that the teacher is going to do.... but fail to say ONE word about what the student is going to do.

My daughter has a wonderful violin teacher and a wonderful orchestra instructor. I am grateful for all that they do. However, my daughter's proficiency rises or falls with her commitment to practice each day. Without that commitment, any effort by her teachers is just tossing sand into the wind.

Having an educated mind takes work and it takes discipline. It requires commitment. Schools would be better served if they stopped looking for a Holy Grail cure-all that requires nothing of students. Instead, let the schools be honest - if you want to be truly educated, it is going to require students and families to restructure their priorities.


Redlefty said...


p.s. -- I watched What Would Jesus Buy last night. You're right; it was excellent and challenging.

Consumerism and lack of focus on education have some common roots, I think.

Bob said...

Oh my, did you say a mouthful. I am not an educator so I would not begin to speak with any authority but it has always seemed to me that education deals in trends. Whether it's the block system, the Open Classroom, new math, year-round education, sight reading -- the list goes on -- there's always the latest and greatest. Sadly, many of your fellow teachers buy into this, take it and run with it. A parent who dares to question it often will be laughed out of the conversation as if to say, "You're (just) a parent. I am an educator and I know what I'm talking about."

Certainly things evolve and we need to be open to new ideas but, as you so eloquently put it, there are some basic unchanging principles and it all goes back to the work a student does.

Sadly, No Child Left Behind became just one of the trends. I question if it was ever realistic in the first place and wonder if perhaps more of a distraction than a help.

Great stuff here. Thanks.

Tit for Tat said...

I think the only way people learn is if they are inspired. How do they get inspiration, that comes from knowing oneself, which in turn comes from security and love. The fact is, that comes from the home, if a child is not secure they wont have the inspiration or energy to learn. Pretty basic stuff, it just doesnt sell very well, because it would mean as parents we are accountable for how secure our children are. And most dont realize, that doesnt have much to do with how much stuff we give them.

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