Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grading Parents: How a Florida Law Highlights Exactly What is Wrong With Education

I can hear the comments from teachers now:

"This is the greatest law ever!"
"YEAH!  It's about time we make parents responsible!"

A Florida representative recently proposed a bill that would require kindergarten through third grade teachers to grade their students' parents.  This is a teachers' dream.  

Why?  Our experiences tell us our students' success is directly  correlated to their home life, which is correlated with parental involvement.  As involvement goes up, achievement goes up.  Increasing parental involvement makes a better student, generally speaking.

So why is this a bad idea?  

It's another example of the system's failures being blamed on something besides the system itself.  Teachers administrators, school boards, curriculum, textbooks, lack of technology, and a myriad of other cogs in the machine of education have been blamed for the failures of public education.  

We've taken dramatic steps to change these elements, usually by "making them more accountable".  Has it worked?  Not according to this article.  

It doesn't take a sociology PhD to understand what is happening.  Our government is "raising the bar" by increasing graduation requirements and adding punitive consequences to high-stakes standardized tests.  This sounds like a great idea... on paper.

In reality, no amount of money, programs, teacher expertise, or curriculum is going to significantly change student ability.  We measure student success by a shockingly narrow range of ability and very specific skills.  A good percentage of our society simply does not excel at those specific measures of "ability."  

Since schools are being judged on things like graduation rates, they begin to cut corners to artificially increase graduation rates.  What's the alternative?  The laws don't give schools an alternative.

What's worse than the kids graduating with a watered-down degree?  The kids that fall through the cracks.  The laws require schools to continually increase test scores and graduation rates.  Most of this can be done by lowering standards, thus inflating grades.  Still, some kids can't hack even that level.  What do we do with these kids?  We get rid of them by tagging them as "behavior problems" and shipping them to alternative schools or expelling them altogether.

This Florida bill simply shifts some of the blame to parents.  Is it their fault their kid is better at drawing than long division?  And will this bill somehow change that?

The problem is obvious.  School policies are being determined by politicians that have little or no understanding of actual human behavior in general, and the inner-workings of the process of educating children in particular.  
The solution is equally obvious.  We need to stop treating kids like numbered cattle.  We need to stop assuming we can treat children like machines where inputting "X" will result in "Y" results.  We need to treat each and every child like the individual they are.  We need to create an environment where their individual talents can blossom.  We need to foster creativity, critical thinking, and the intrinsic love of learning through exploration and discovery.  We need to abandon this dumb-ass idea of "accountability", stop blaming parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other groups indiscriminately, and refocus our priorities.  

What we are doing does not work.  Doing more of it is just plain stupid.  


1 comment:

  1. Grading parents bothers me the same way homework does: it puts teachers in a position of authority over parents. Why should teachers be in a position to grade my performance? Why should teachers be allowed to assign homework that tells me how to spend my own time in my own home with my own child? Give me a break. I'm not the teacher's assistant.