Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's pass the buck, why don't we...

There was a news item this morning saying that students are graduating from New Jersey high schools and are "ill-equipped" for life and for the first year of college. Here is the story itself. It doesn't directly place the blame on anyone, but it does imply that much time and money needs to be invested in order to discover the root of this very complicated problem.

Now imagine me saying this and trying very hard not to laugh.

Joking aside, we do have several problems right now in education that likely contribute to high school students not being ready for college or jobs. The issue cited in the news story says that students are going to college and are needing to take remedial courses, resulting in a need for more money being spent on college, and that this is the fault of the high schools. Well, maybe. But the more obvious solution is that if a student isn't ready for college or requires too many remedial courses, the student should not spend the money on remedial courses in any place other than community college, which is not the same sort of expensive that other institutions may be. There is also a major shift that has occurred over the past few decades, in which a lack of a college education makes it more difficult to break into several professional fields. Jobs that required a high school education and perhaps a bit of additional training now seem to require college degrees. Whether the college education is actually useful for the job or not. And then, more people are encouraged to attend college in order to compete for the jobs. Regardless of whether they should...

Does this have anything to do with high schools? Maybe. Maybe not. Students need to be more aware of their skill level. Standardized tests sometimes reflect this accurately (and sometimes they only reflect how good a student is at taking tests) because they are not graded by the student's own teachers, and grades do not tell the story very well anyway. Not to mention, they are subject to influence. The schools need to be honest with the students about something like remedial coursework in college, even if it isn't the easiest information for them to swallow.

Then, of course, we get into the problem of some schools having many students who require remedial coursework and some not. Does this mean that we go ahead blame the schools themselves, if they send more kids to college who can't quite do the entry-level coursework yet? Sure, if you want to blame schools themselves for the people who live in the district and go to the schools. My mother brought up the point that some parents have no idea where the school is when called in for a conference. And if that's the level of involvement, then it's no wonder that students and parents are being surprised.

But to say that it is entirely the fault of the schools themselves for not providing the coursework, as the commissioner of education is quoted as saying in this article, is pretty ridiculous. She obviously hasn't been to any schools recently. Many students who have gone on to be successful in college, especially those who attended "troubled" schools, have done so because they made it their business to get the right information and do the work. Self-motivated students are the ones that get things done. Students who expect everyone else to do their work for them are the ones that struggle later on in life. Blame the teachers? Very easy to do, and sometimes might be an appropriate response as we certainly aren't perfect and can make mistakes or overlook important issues, but students need to take responsibility, as do parents, for cultivating strong professional relationships with teachers and counselors and other school personnel so that the students get the most out of their school experience.

Another issue is that students complain of time constraints. Parents--what exactly ARE your kids doing when they aren't in school? If you don't know, then that's a problem. My readers know that I teach music, as does my husband. Don't tell me that music takes up too much time and that students don't get their work done because of musical involvement--one year my husband had students ranked about 1 through 15 all in his band. Somehow they manage. It's generally not the kids who spend the time on music in school who have the issues--try again. A very unpopular postulation? Sports. Not all sports, not all kids, but the sports schedules are much more intense than the music schedules. Some kids can handle it, and some kids can't, but heaven forbid we tell a kid that he would be better off not participating in a sport because he needs to do his schoolwork. Another unpopular postulation: how dare we forbid a child to go out in the evening? She might not be as cool as she would have been. It's not fair. Of course it isn't fair. Why is it that some kids can finish homework in half an hour and for others it takes three hours? Not fair, and not fun, but if the kids who take longer are interested in the same pursuits as the kids who don't take as long, they need to either work on a way to work more effectively or they need to resign themselves to spending more time.

The attitude of "oh, it's school, it sucks, I go there and go to my classes and listen to my teacher ramble on and then I do my homework" just doesn't work in college, nor does it work in many jobs, and people are shocked about that.

At some point, everyone needs to develop some personal responsibility, and it has to happen in high school because, generally, people reach adulthood and finish high school around the same time...and if they don't "get it" by then, then that person has problems to work out.

Which is okay. Sometimes people do need a little extra space to mature. But don't blame the school if you didn't do your homework. Don't blame the school if you acted like a jerk to all of your teachers and as a result have not been receptive to what they've told you. Don't blame the school if you spent your weekends drunk.

There are plenty of instances in which the school or the teachers are at fault, but those are generally individual issues, not ones that need to be studied extensively by the commissioner of education.

Perhaps she could take the time to provide maps to parents who don't know where their child's school is located.


Rebecca said...

Well said! I couldn't agree with you more. It is a shame that people are blaming teachers (and while sometimes that may be the problem) as opposed to blaming the students and parents for being careless. Too many kids now days are out until the wee hours of the mornings on school nights partying it up instead of doing homework, and being responsible. So, kudos to you for stating what everyone else seems to be afraid to admit.

mommybird said...

I totally agree, with all of it. I was a very involved and dedicated music student in high school and still managed to keep up with 4 AP classes. My husband managed to play sports and maintain a 4.0 GPA.

Taking responsibility for yourself is usually what it boils down to. I worked in Special Ed in the high school level as well, and there were few instances when the teacher was really to blame. 9 times out of 10 it was a lazy student that managed to get away with blaming everyone but themselves.

the mol said...

Which reminds me:

any student at any level, if s/he actually takes responsibility, will be able to reach his/her potential. Two people immediately come to mind in our inner circle. They were not great students and did not go to college. Both took different paths following high school; both are very successful and happy.