Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Education and No Child Left Behind

My cousin, EJ, and I have been having an email exchange on No Child Left Behind and the State of Education in this country in general. She is a Professor of Education, and has been for many years now (not to make her sound old or anything, but she's older than me, haha!), and also taught high school before getting her EdD. Anyway, I mentioned to her that Obama is keeping NCLB intact while making some other changes, like tying teacher pay to student performance, longer days/terms, etc. Do I even need to say that this is NOT what he said when he was campaigning?? Anyway, I am not an expert on Education, but she is ("I’ve been teaching since 1977; I have taught English - gr. 9-11, remedial reading - 9-12 and K-6, regular classroom teacher -5th gr., and at the college level for more than 20 years. I’ve taught in NC, LA, NY; I’ve taught @ public schools (where my heart lies) and private schools."), so I asked her what she thought about Obama's changes. She wrote back such a thoughtful response on that and the state of education in our country, that I asked her if I could share it here. She graciously agreed, and her response is below (where necessary, I insert the question I asked for context, I have edited personal comments, and any other changes were for formatting purposes only).

In one email, Cousin EJ wrote:
I had seen he wants longer school days and or academic years. we are the only country that i know of where sports plays such a large role. In other countries, kids have jobs, too, but education comes first.

I responded about a friend's 9 yr old son, and the amount of time his coaches want him to practice during the school week. That, along with the question from me of what in the world changed in our educational system that students, and PARENTS, expect their kids to get the best grades for no/little work, that too many kids act with disrespect to their teachers, and with NCLB, teachers have to give up teachable moments. I think that pretty much covers it, and you should be able to figure out other questions I asked from her response:
I don’t care that we start sports so young, but the competitiveness that accompanies everything we do is just way off the charts. We put too much emphasis on “beating” the other team … winning (at all costs), and making fun of the losers that we are just overrun with testosterone even as adults. Maybe I am using the metaphor of being too virile incorrectly, but we do seem to let our inner man out way too much.

I would hope we pay teachers better. Compared to other countries, we don’t pay well at all. We do not hold teachers in high regard, which they are in other countries. The countries (at least the ones that I’ve been in) which do not have the level of standardized testing that we do are doing ever so much better at educating their children than we are. 30 years ago, we didn’t want to have our children have the exacting standards that were seen in Japan/China and look where that got us; we wanted to really water the curriculum down and allow kids to feel good about themselves. Well, there’s a difference between academic self-esteem and other self-esteem. By having high standards with high expectations, and by helping children meet those expectations & standards, we can help children feel good about themselves academically. There’s not a lot we can do about what goes on at home.

One of the issues Obama mentioned was proper credentialing, so I asked her how common it is for teachers to teach outside of their specialties:
You would be surprised at the number of teachers who are teaching in fields where they are not qualified-one teacher was teaching math to the 6-8th graders at a school when I taught there. She held permanent certification in home ec and had NOT been to any in-service, except what the diocese provided in the whole time she’d been out of school. Several kids M knew in high school went to college, got a degree (some only a 2 year associates degree) and then decided to be teachers. So they were hired to teach during the day and took classes to learn pedagogy at night. There is the “Teach for America” program which gets people to teach in high needs areas – but who are not certified teachers (see THIS link). I am not crazy about the teaching during the day and learning how to teach at night, because the poor teachers and kids get the short end of the stick-your first year of teaching is absolutely draining. I do really mind that there are teachers (I also know some of these personally) who have been recruited into the TfA program and who make no effort to get certified at all. The TfA program is not the same as a regular, accredited college program. (See THIS SITE which sounds pretty down on TfA but is basically truthful.) Every state practically (I don’t know that all 50 do) has alternative certification routes, which are very much different than the paths students in accredited colleges/universities have to take. Go to any state’s SED website and see what the alternative route for certification is. Sometimes it is as little as 10 credits (for certification, a college student who is an education major has to take 36 plus or minus a couple credits – and there has to be a minimum of 50-100 hours of contact time with students, plus there has to be a concentration or minor in a liberal arts area usually).

Where do we hire these non-certified teachers – to teach science and math, because we cannot get qualified teachers in science and math. People who are good in sci/math don’t as a rule go into teaching b/c there is more money to be made working in the private sector than there is in teaching. Teaching is definitely a commitment to a “service” field – it is not a “get rich” field.

We also have non-certified teachers teaching in high needs areas which translated means inner city schools. Those students really need certified teachers who understand children, how to teach, and the content areas they are teaching in.

Saying that, we still need to pay teachers better and we also need to give them the respect they deserve. When did that start changing, you ask…probably with your parents and my parents’ generation. They led the way for our generation to say “we want equal rights,” “we have equal rights,” “children have rights,” “you have no right to keep my child back just because he/she doesn’t know diddley,” or “I have more rights than you…get over it, worship at my feet” (or words to that effect).

I know exactly what she means here - like when adults ask their 3 yr old to make decisions for the family (and I have seen this with my own eyes), they are setting up a dangerous precedent. A 3 yr old (or any child) does not have the necessary physiological development to MAKE those kinds of decisions, yet allowing the child to control the family has become all too familiar in this country.

Dr. EJ continues:
We have become a nation that has gone too far in the direction of not being willing to take a stand about something except taking a stand for greed – you know, the gold standard. I have to have more money than you, so I can rub it in your face. We are as a nation, overall, exploitive and narcissistic; we focus on things that aren’t issues, well shouldn’t be issues (as in, we should get over our holier-than-thou-priggishness and realize that YES indeed all people have rights to marriage etc./there is not a “genetic” difference for race so the whites are NOT superior to all others), and we fail to recognize that the religious right isn’t…; and we have lost sight of what is important (such as caring about others, being excited about learning, our civil rights and liberties – why was America set up to begin with).

We don’t want responsibility but we complain when we are “taken care of” (that is, when someone like the government steps in and does things…I don’t want to go off on too much more of a tangent so I’ll not fully explain my thoughts). But, we also expect bailouts. On one hand we want this, on the other hand we don’t want that, on our next hand we want a … we are turning into octopi!

Our society is going to hell in a handbasket on a greased rope. We have way, way too many entitlement programs; we want to be the be all and end all to the world without stopping to think of what that means (give me your poor, your tired, your hungry – what? I have to feed them? They are going to take the jobs my kids don’t want to apply for because my kids don’t want to work hard!) Our society is sick. Parents have abdicated responsibility of taking care of their kids yet they don’t want to give the kids up and don’t want others teaching the kids what is right. We’ve let illegal (for example, street drug trade) and legal criminals (insurance companies, banks, etc.) take over the country. Our government is for the rich by the rich and of the rich. The government doesn’t stand up to big business.

There is no easy answer to any of this. We want to allow a lot of things but not have a lot of rules and restrictions then we complain when things get out of hand. Maybe we need to be more centrist – the liberals haven’t got the answers and neither do the conservatives. Pick a little, that is get what works, from both sides of the aisle, to use a current phrase.

OK, that part is a real rant and it didn’t start out to be. You get my drift, I am sure. I am not happy about where we are as a country in general, and with education in specific.

I do get her drift. One of my brothers is also a university professor, as is his wife. I remember him telling me when he was in graduate school that his students, or their PARENTS, would go to the Dean if they didn't get the grade they WANTED, not deserved, WANTED. Despite his being an English Lit. professor, the tests about which he was speaking were standardized, so what you got was what you got. But the students didn't want to accept that.

Back to Cousin EJ:
We have let the businesses take over schools – we have a factory model, and have had since the Industrial Revolution; it keeps going back and forth, back and forth-currently more industry run and factory model than not (articles on history HERE or HERE (really good) or HERE) instead of a learner centered model (see HERE).

Many educators were furious at the unfunded mandates of NCLB. Many others were furious about the continued “scientific management” (not stated in those terms, but that’s what it is) being ratcheted up several more notches.

When I taught the history of education class we used to offer, I brought in the perspective that what we call education is schooling and that the hidden agenda is to keep us in our places – my students were appalled and I reckon still are. They weren’t critical thinkers – they still aren’t even now. Less so now since I am seeing a new generation of students. My students want to be told what to think and how to think it. What do I need to do to get an A in your class instead of hard work-can’t I get an A for just showing up (I was asked that last semester, no kidding)?

Holy cow. I mentioned to her that I had a number of very good teachers growing up, ones who really cared about teaching, and about us learning, teachers who looked for those "teachable moments" that are no longer possible with NCLB (or else you get behind in what you must give the students for their tests):
Teachers such as the ones you had are rare. They were rare when you were in school and are so much more rare today. Practically extinct.

Yes the sense of entitlement has mushroomed to include graduate level students. It makes me sick. here’s a little bit of an article about it:
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

Prof. Ellen Greenberger studied what she found to be an increased sense of entitlement among college students. "Many students come in with the conviction that they've worked hard and deserve a higher mark," Professor Grossman said. "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before."

He attributes those complaints to his students' sense of entitlement. "I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C," he said. "That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A."

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that a third of students surveyed said that they expected B's just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading.

"I noticed an increased sense of entitlement in my students and wanted to discover what was causing it," said Ellen Greenberger, the lead author of the study, called "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors," which appeared last year in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Professor Greenberger said that the sense of entitlement could be related to increased parental pressure, competition among peers and family members and a heightened sense of achievement anxiety.

Other good articles on this issue are HERE(interesting), HERE(also interesting), and HERE(VERY INTERESTING).

If you want some good reading, read Alfie Kohn, Patrick Shannon, and Dick Allington. All three take stances against more of the same old, same old.

Wow. Like I said, I'm no expert, but my cousin is. It is nice to get some of the REAL information on the State of Education in our country from someone who works in it every single day, teaching those who will become teachers. I thank her profusely for allowing me to post her thoughts on this (and this was all off the top of her head, just a response to an email I sent).

If change is to be made in the way we educate our children, it will take a concerted effort on all of our parts - parents, teachers, schools, and yes, our government, alike. Change can't come soon enough. We need to have teachers who can teach, who are ALLOWED to teach those "teachable moments," not just rote memorization, teachers who are paid decent wages, teachers teaching in their respective fields, children who come ready and willing to learn, and parents who care more about WHAT and HOW their children are learning than whether they get an A or A-. That means a major attitude adjustment from this grandiose sense of entitlement, one which leads to the the idea that just showing up deserves a B. And we need schools that are conducive to learning, that are in good shape, and have adequate supplies for all students.

We owe it to our children, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our country.


discoursefever said...

Thank you. This is one thing that NEEDS to be talked about in our country, but I've noticed that whenever I call NCLB a ridiculous plan, nobody seems to even know what I'm talking about. I had always planned on being a teacher, but will never pursue the career until our education system focuses on teaching critical thinking, a wide array of subjects (not just science and math to beat out our "rivals") and real history. The simple regurgitation of facts on a standardized test will not make well-rounded, thoughtful individuals who are ready for the real world, even if the plan claims to leave no child behind.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

And thank you for your thoughtful comment! Judging by your passion for critical thinkers in our society, I think our education system is losing out on a great teacher. And that is extremely unfortunate. I certainly understand why, though...

I was telling my cousin that the boarding school I attended had essay question tests - even in Biology. It screwed me for taking standardized tests (because there is often more than just one answer, and in an essay, you can SAY that), but it sure taught me the material. And I was fortunate enough to have teachers who really cared about us learning to THING, not regurgitate.

Sounds like you also had teachers who were able to be teachers...

Thanks again for your comment!