We’ve heard much recently about the United States slipping in the education ranking of developed nations. Having been a product of the American public school system, I knew, like many other American parents, that the education it provides is, shall we say, lacking in certain areas. What I didn’t realize - until I enrolled my own children, immersed myself in their schools, classrooms, curricula, and classmates, attended school board meetings, and heard the stories of other concerned parents and teachers - is just how lacking that education truly is.
From home, it can be hard for parents to understand the damage that’s being done to our kids until it’s too late and our children suddenly require remediation, tutoring, or have their hopes for their future crushed when they discover they’re woefully unprepared for college. When I initially began volunteering at my kids’ school, I admit, it was to monitor the education my own kids were receiving. In these last years, however, the education all our kids are receiving has revealed itself as the train wreck from which I can’t look away. Moral duty compels me to share what I have seen that every parent should know.
While I have either personally witnessed or have reliable sources who have witnessed these atrocities within Spokane Public Schools, they are in no way isolated to this little town in eastern Washington. The trend is nationwide.
- Cursive writing is no longer taught.
- I see high schoolers who cannot read cursive because they were never taught to write in cursive.
- I see math curricula that do not teach standard algorithms, but rather create dependency on calculators and technology.
- I see curricula that drive a wedge between students and their parents by fostering a dependency on peers through excessive group work.
- I see math curricula that prevent parental involvement by excluding the methods we were taught and teaching only “new math.”
- I know parents who can’t help their elementary age children with math homework because it doesn’t make sense to parents or students.
- I’ve seen the light come on for students who have struggled for years - after their tutors or parents show them standard algorithms.
- I have heard teachers ask parents to “please, please” not teach their children standard algorithms.
- I know teachers who have offered classes for parents on how to understand the “new math.”
- I know kids who “get in trouble” in class when they use the algorithms they learned at home.
- I’ve heard parents and teachers remark that math has “changed so much” since we learned it; but, of course, math doesn’t change. Two plus two still equals four.
- I see 12-year-olds who cannot add or subtract, let alone multiply or divide, yet have been pushed through to the next grade regardless.
- I’ve heard teachers telling students, “You have to draw pictures to show your work” in math.
- I see third and fourth graders who draw literally hundreds of marks or pictures to figure a single math problem because they haven’t been taught efficient methods, and still get the answer wrong.
- I’ve seen eleventh graders who cannot divide a 3-digit number by a 1-digit number without a calculator.
- I see elementary school classrooms with a calculator in every desk.
- I know teachers who have been told not to try to engage struggling and difficult students in lessons but to let them be content with picture books in class.
- I know teachers who have been reprimanded for criticizing district curricula or policy.
- I see teachers paranoid and intimidated over teaching traditional math like standard algorithms and facts drill in their classrooms.
- I’ve heard district administrators openly discussing “problem teachers.”
- I see students in classrooms where the teacher taught algorithms and drilled math facts excel the following year over students from classrooms where the teacher did not.
- I know volunteer tutors who’ve been refused because they teach traditional math methods rather than “fuzzy” math.
- I see students who are “good at math” in tears over their math homework.
- I’ve heard a teacher tell students, “Abraham Lincoln fought and died in the Civil War.”
- I see an appalling rate of high school graduates who require remedial math courses in college.
- I’ve seen students who successfully test into college-level math ultimately struggle and learn that they need remediation after all to fill in the holes in their math education.
- I see kids being taught daily to a level far beneath their capacity, and being told that they just have to sit there.
- Alternately, I see teachers struggle to provide additional challenges for those kids using only “district-approved curricula.”
- I see third graders singing preschool songs as a class.
- I’ve seen district-provided material that tells teachers to spend more individual instructional time with lower-performing students than with higher-performing students.
- I see students who mock and taunt adults in the school, with no significant consequences.
- I see students with multiple truancies that result in no consequences.
- I see unexcused absences that go undisciplined.
- I see late work given full credit.
- I see students receive extra credit points through no effort of their own, for example, when the teacher calls them by the wrong name in class.
- I’ve seen implementation of a grading system where it’s often impossible to achieve either the highest or the lowest grade.
- I’ve seen materials that tell teachers to train students not to question teachers or other students, not to raise their hand when they have the right answer, and not to take the lead in groups.
- I see academic learning time used for social exercises designed to make sure everyone a) feels good and b) realizes that they’re a small part of a large group.
- I’ve learned that - despite what the district has claimed - the WASL (now the MSP or HSPE at the high school level) is not required, not at any grade level and not for graduation in the state of Washington – rather, there are several ways to meet the graduation requirement.
- I see students’ love of and excitement for learning turning to drudgery and perceived failure.
I ask parents and teachers, what have you seen that just doesn’t sit right with you? What have you been told to teach or not to teach? What have your kids brought home that didn’t make sense, but you feel you can only assume that the schools must know best? Any one of these seemingly little things as an isolated incident might not mean much but for our children’s sake, do not discount it. These incidents add up to one giant failure across the country, putting the United States at the bottom of the list. http://www.geographic.org/country_ranks/educational_score_performance_country_ranks_2009_oecd.html#maths
Parents and teachers, you are not alone. Get together, talk, stand up for our children. It’s their future and our nation’s future that are at stake.
This article also was posted Jan. 5, 2011, on EducationNews.org at: http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/105500.html
Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.