From the April 1, 2011, Seattle Times: Why straight-A's may not get you into UW this year:
“In the face of continuing state budget cuts, academic leaders at the University of Washington in February made a painful decision to cut the number of Washington students the school will admit this fall and increase the number of out-of-state and international students, who pay nearly three times as much in tuition and fees.”
The phenomenon of in-state students ceding their college seat to international students is important, yet old news. We math advocates have been worrying about it for years.
International and out-of-state students are increasingly welcomed on campuses because they pay higher tuitions (which many pay up front). However, international students also tend to have substantially better academic skills. (Their “A” in “Honors Math” and in “Honors English” can actually be trusted.)
Meanwhile, up to a third of our students are dropping out. In Spokane, just 38.9% of our 10th-graders passed the 2010 state math test. Most of our graduates require substantial remediation in math before they can even begin college courses. They’re years behind in English. Rest assured that university recruiters are aware. International students are picking up the slack – on campuses, in the business community, and in STEM fields.
You’d think the situation would alarm our K-12 public school board directors and administrators, and motivate them to change how they do business. Instead, we keep hearing them say: “Not all kids need to go to college. Many careers don’t require college degrees. Our graduation rates are way up. We're so proud of ourselves. Everything's fine.”
I used to think district leaders cared about what my child needs in math, grammar, civics, and history. I thought they cared whether she graduates from high school “college ready.” I thought they’d want her to become a freethinker, to do her best, to excel academically, to be an individual, follow her dreams, stand up for what’s right, respect her teachers and her parents, and help take over the reins of the country.
I believed those things for longer than I should have. For three years, I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing in front of me. I kept thinking, “I need to bring them more research, more data, more parents, more professionals. I need to make better arguments.” I tried to figure out which magical combination of words would ring true with them.
In March 2011, a Spokane board director told me that an approach to K-12 mathematics “whose end goal is merely learning efficient ways to get correct answers is inadequate virtually by definition.” Actually, that’s exactly the point of mathematics, to learn efficient ways to get correct answers. Math is a useful tool and a “gatekeeper” subject. Students need to learn how to use it. It doesn’t need to be a dog-and-pony show.
But in public education, everything is a dog-and-pony show. What parents and taxpayers want, or what students need, appears to matter little to the leadership. Basic academic skills, efficiency, effectiveness, proficiency, and sufficiency aren’t the goals. Thriftiness (spending taxpayer dollars wisely and not wasting them on non-academic desires) perennially takes a back seat to “Oooo!! Cool!! How do we get some of that?” And all the while, our children aren't able to learn what they need to know.
You’d think district decision-makers would melt from shame at the weak results of their policies and approaches. Instead, most appear to have concluded that teachers and parents are the problem. They stare us down, challenge the relevance of our experiences, and assure us that everything’s fine. They aren’t assessed on student outcomes. They aren’t fired for weak results. Last year in Spokane, most of them got raises – funded by the levy.
Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. It’s hard to believe. I’m shocked by it, every day. You’d think devastation and deceit like this would be front-page news. You’d think heads would roll. You certainly wouldn’t expect to see raises, praise, and contract renewals.
Here’s what I recommend to all parents and interested community members. Ask your local administrators and board directors: “What is the school district’s mission? What’s the end goal?” Then, pursue the conversation logically. Ask how they plan to achieve their mission and end goal. Ask how they know when they’ve done it. Ask what they mean by “excellence” and “college readiness.” Ask to see their research and statistical support for their approaches. (And I encourage you to read their “research.” It will definitely open your eyes.) Ask for explanations of the low pass rates, high student exit rates (by dropout or by transfer), and high remedial rates.
I expect them to have proper support for their decisions – beyond “everyone knows” and “research shows.” I expect them to argue their case.
- But when I questioned certain central-office decision-makers and board directors, I saw: A lack of supporting data; an absence of scientifically conducted research; illogical argumentation; efforts to divert away from the topic at hand; and much blaming of others.
- When I persisted, I saw: Defensiveness; denial; condescension; challenging of me; and questioning of my “agenda,” my background, my experience and my intentions.
- It wasn’t long before I saw: Arrogance, rudeness, anger, personal attacks, and a sudden (and apparently permanent) determination that I am the problem.
At last, I finally understand. My argument is destined to fail. The district I want to see, the district the students need, the district I’m fighting for … isn’t the district they’re building. I want academics, facts, efficient procedures, logical process, respect for teachers and parents, a deep breadth of knowledge, and eventual college-or-trade readiness. They want more taxpayer money, a tightly controlled message, and district-wide adherence to their agenda. For students, they want collaboration, consensus, and compromise, to be well-behaved and dependent members of a group, to share group values and group process, and to sacrifice one’s own needs for the “good of all.”
I see now that:
- No student data will convince them. They look at Spokane’s 38.9% pass rate on the 2010 state math test, at students' high rates of remediation in math in college, and high numbers of student dropouts and transfers, and they wave it all away as insufficient, biased, fake and irrelevant.
- No student feedback will convince them. Students practically beg for clarity, instructions, explanations and structure. Administrators reject that, claiming that students don’t know what they’re saying.
- No parent feedback will convince them. Parents tell stories of their children struggling, failing, and becoming dispirited. Administrators respond with variations of, “struggling is good, we need more money, poverty is to blame, we need better teachers, we need to feed these kids, fix their teeth and provide clothing, we need to sympathize and empathize and show them we care.”
- No professional feedback will convince them. For decades, STEM professionals have called for a more “instructional” approach to mathematics. Administrators say mathematicians and engineers know math but don’t know how to teach it to children, don’t know how to communicate, and are stuck in old ways of thinking.
- No community feedback will convince them. At recent community forums in Spokane, the public clearly called for a more traditional approach to K-12 math. But district emails indicate that administrators flooded our forums so they could argue for the district’s approach. They’re now preparing to hold their own forums so they can present the “truth.”
To get schools like that, many parents will have to leave the public system altogether.
Rogers, L. (April 2011). "College placement hindered by in-state tuition, weak K-12 system." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/
This article also was published April 9, 2011, by educationnews.org at: http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/insights_on_education/153495.html