Tuesday, September 7, 2021

America's Failing Schools

If our children are our future, we’re fucked. 

I defy anyone to extract a different conclusion from this report by a Texas high school teacher named Shane Trotter. Apparently, the dumbing down of American has been ongoing for many years now. The urge toward diversity and inclusion was pedagogical policy long before the current spasm of outrage about inequity and whatever. 

Our educational establishment, by the example of Trotter’s Texas high school, decided several years ago that it would close the achievement gap by focusing attention on the dumbest of the dumb, while ignoring the cognitive needs of the best, and even the next-t0-best. It was more about social engineering than about educating.

This means, as we have occasionally noted, American students will never be able to compete with their peers in Asia, and maybe even in Europe.

Our high school wasn’t going to focus on helping students develop better problem-solving skills, increasing student engagement, or even on aligning our curriculums more closely to the demands of standardized tests. In fact, we weren’t going to focus on anything that would be relevant to the majority of our students. Our One Thing was to improve the educational outcomes of our “critical students”—the lowest achieving five percent who had not passed standardized tests and were most at risk of not graduating. In a school with over 2,000 students, we were told that improving the scores of our bottom 100 was what mattered most.

Trotter explains:

Public education, today, is far more concerned with raising the grades and test scores of its lowest achieving students than with pushing all students towards a higher standard. Of course, schools would love everyone to learn more and they are eager to highlight any academic achievement that they can use to create the illusion of educational excellence. But in a world of finite resources, the priorities are quite clear. Whenever a school has to choose, they will sacrifice the benefit of the many to focus on the least successful few.

The problem is, the children who are at the bottom are so far behind that nothing effectively can be done to bring them up to middling performance. I would note that Trotter says nothing about the ethnic background of these failing students-- hint, they are in Texas-- and certainly says nothing about IQ. That is, are they really capable of improving academically? Or, as he would later say, shouldn’t they be taught a trade where they might make a living?

Considering the needs of each student, why should so much emphasis be placed on teaching algebra to a high school student who still can’t multiply single-digit numbers in his head. By high school, most “critical students” are years behind their peers. They often don’t know the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, where China is relative to Australia, or that “I” is supposed to be capitalized. Barring an enormous and unlikely investment of energy, they will not enter a field that requires academic competency. This is not to say that motivated students should not have access to remediation. But the vast majority of critical students would benefit far more from getting work experience in a specific trade than from prolonging this painful educational charade. It seems foolish for a teacher to pay less attention to students who are likely to need higher-level academic skills in their future, so that he can pull uninterested students aside to quiz them on the parts of the cell.

If a high school teacher is focused on remediation for the less gifted, he will be less able to attend to the needs of the most gifted. Thus, he will be dumbing down the best while, sad to say, not helping the rest.

The result: most children exit high school unprepared to do college work:

But, the higher-order skills that high schools should be focused on developing require a level of attention, rigor, and skilled feedback that remediation-focused teachers are not able to offer. Consequently, the majority of high school graduates today are not adequately prepared. A 2010 report revealed that of the 23 member universities in the California State University system, all of which demand a college-preparatory curriculum completed with at least a B average, “68 percent of the 50,000 entering freshmen at CSU campuses require remediation in English/language arts, math, or both.” And if these same standards were applied by the California Community Colleges, “their remediation rates would exceed 80 percent.”

Trotter continues:

Most people sense that our education system is falling short, yet we struggle to identify many of the most obvious causes and their solutions. Most notably, by placing a disproportionate emphasis on the education of less capable students, schools downgrade the education of everyone else. Teachers lower their standards and their role shifts from academic and developmental experts to that of activity-organizers. Mainstream students skate by without ever cultivating a capacity for logical analysis, synthesis, written argument, or any of the competencies that will be most valuable after high school. Even Advanced Placement courses are often forced to lower their standards, as many parents realize that the mainstream track is inadequate and decide to push their kids into classes they aren’t prepared for.

And then there is the practice of mainstreaming, that is, keeping underperforming and often misbehaving children in regular classes. One notes, in passing, that the Obama education department chose to make it far more difficult to suspend or expel disruptive children, because the rules seemed to be disadvantaging children of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds. Just what schools needed, less discipline:

Over the past few decades, schools have embraced practices of inclusion (also known as mainstreaming) which prioritize keeping students with disabilities in regular classes as much as possible. As of 2016, 60 percent of students with disabilities spent 80 percent of their day or more in “mainstream” classes. A number of studies point to the benefits of inclusion on special education students, but there is considerably less research about the effects of inclusion on the rest of the class. What evidence there is indicates that mainstreaming students with disabilities tends to decrease the time teachers spend on instruction, while increasing the time spent on classroom management and the likelihood that teachers will change professions. Such negative consequences are consistent with my own experience. Even more, they are obvious when you consider the practical implications of special education policies.

Teachers end up treating all pupils as though they are chronic underachievers. They cannot judge children according to objective and fair standards because this would make it appear that the inclusion policies were not working:

Overwhelmed teachers decide that rather than trying to remember which students get fill-in-the-blank notes, they will give them to all students. Rather than remembering who gets extended time, they’ll accept everyone’s late work without penalty, and the entire class will move at a slower pace so that assignments don’t stack up on those who have more time. Rather than creating a separate study guide for their accommodation students, they give all students a sneak-peek study guide that lists exactly what is on the test.

As for what these inclusion policies achieve, the answer is that they do not even help the children they are designed to help:

….over the course of three years, from fourth to sixth grade, the gap between these struggling students and their classmates grew even larger, regardless of the type of instruction students received. One can only assume that these gaps would grow even wider and more discouraging as students continued their educational careers.

As for the cost of the school lockdowns, Trotter explains that young children are all now going to make up the year that they lost. These children could not learn via Zoom, so they simply missed a year. This is especially the case with children who did not have the advantage of parental tutoring.

And yet, since a goodly portion of the class is doing remedial work, those children who are ready for an age appropriate curriculum are not getting it. Thus, their minds and their future prospects are being sacrificed to an inclusion policy:

I recently spoke with a friend of mine—a second grade teacher with over 30 years of experience. Right now, about a third of the students in her class have not been inside a classroom since March of 2020, while the rest attended school in-person for most of last year. Try as teachers might, six-year-olds are just not well-equipped to learn online. Thus, my friend’s class is made up of students at vastly different levels. Those who attended school or had a support system that facilitated learning at home are prepared for a second-grade curriculum. But they are not getting one. As directed, this teacher has turned her second grade class into a review of first grade. Rather than identify and separate students to provide instruction based on their present need, her school has determined that all students should be taught at the lowest common denominator.


Randomizer said...

To public school teachers, Shane Trotter's observations are familiar. At worst, a teacher would say, "yeah, so what's the problem?"

I've taught AP Physics for decades as my colleague across the hall teaches remedial science. We are both committed to student learning and, based on standardized test scores, are good at our jobs.

For about the last ten years, I have been told, by a variety of administrators, that for my AP class, it would be better for 90 students to score a 3, than for 45 students to score a 5. You may be aware that for an AP class, 5 is the highest score, while 3 is the minimum to pass. Each university decides what score is required to earn college credit.

The message is clear. Do not attempt to challenge every student, but shoot for the minimum to pass.

My colleague has scores of students with EIP's and 504 plans. Many of those are the mainstreamed special ed students with an IQ that would be an enviable golf score. My colleague does much of what Trotter suggests. He applies the accommodation to the entire class because there are so many students who are allowed to use their notes on the quiz, get extra time or have the quiz read aloud. My colleague does this partly because engaged parents with dumb kids get accommodations, while less engaged parents don't know the system. My colleague has gotten complaints from engaged parents because their children are supposed to have gotten an advantage, and that is cheapened if every student gets the accommodation.

Trotter's observations are occurring at my nice, suburban school where the mostly conservative parents are active and satisfied with the school district.

Last year, with Covid, that was all swept away. School administrators no longer have any interest in academic achievement, and are only interested in appearing to care about student safety.

Public schools are screwed. Would charter schools be any better? I don't know. In higher education, even the military academies are corrupt and Catholic universities like Boston College and Georgetown are as debauched as everyone else. If the Jesuits don't have the answer, how would I know?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It's a sad story, all around, but I am very grateful for your witness of what is going on in another school. Thanks for the commment.

Sam L. said...

I am reminded of an old science fiction story, "The Marching Morons", by Cyril Kornbluth. Clearly, he foresaw the future, LO, those many years ago. He died in '58.

Sam L. said...

Sooooo, deliberately dumbing down our children is what they are doing. Parents should descend upon the school boards with pitchforks and torches, so as to "get their attention".

Anonymous said...

My brother is a HS history in SC. He normally teaches AP classes and was also given two "College Preparatory" classes this semester. Students in the CP classes are the bottom 5% described in the article. His anecdotes are stunning and distressing - they do not know that 18 months equals 1.5 years because they do not know that a year has 12 months. They cannot match answers to a quiz in a video that provides - in sequence - the answers to the quiz. They do not understand that a person's last name is the differentiator when doing an online search. Etc., etc., etc. But the School Board is taking public comments on adding CRT to the curriculum.

I fear for our country. We are in a decline and the slope is getting steeper very quickly.

Anonymous said...

And the CalState students most behind in basic English and math usually elect to major in Education. Cycle goes on.