Saturday, December 02, 2017

PTA--Pass Them All

It's remarkable to read about how you get all your seniors admitted to college. If you're a charter school, of course, you simply dump every student who isn't making it back into the public schools. If you're a public school it's a little more difficult. Fortunately, it's more or less the Wild West over in DC.

First of all, you have this ridiculous evaluation system. You can rate teachers ineffective and get rid of them. Anyone who doesn't play ball is thrown out of the game. In NYC, we worry about vindictive administrators. In DC, that's probably true too. But if you factor in Campbell's Law, which basically says the more pressure there is, the more corruption there is, it's easy to understand how admin bows to pressure and allows any damn thing to happen.

NYC has been a little more progressive on this, though Sue Edelman at the Post is always turning over rocks to find sleazy principals who cheat to juke the stats. For those who bother following rules, it's a little more difficult to paint failure as success. I recall online nonsense being substituted for class time, including PE. I marvel at how you can answer a bunch of questions, or get your smart girlfriend to answer them for you, and earn credit.

I'm sure there are still makeup rules, and they're still nonsense. But they aren't anything compared to this DC scam, in which everyone passed no matter what. Basically, you didn't have to go to school until they threatened to take you to court. Pretty sweet deal if all you want to do is come in now and then to say hello. In fact, it's a pretty sweet deal even if you don't. Just drop in once in a while, graduate, and somehow get accepted to college.

I'm not sure how well you'd do in college if your work ethic entailed showing up only when the alternative was going to court. I'm pretty sure you just flunk out and lose your tuition if you can't be bothered to show up and do work. There aren't any worksheets or online programs to help with that.

Actually, over the years I've had some remarkably low-performing students who did better than I'd have expected in middle school. I teach ESL, and I usually teach beginners. I've had students who knew virtually no English (and absolutely no Spanish) who received 65 in ESL, ELA and Spanish. I sometimes wonder whether the NYC middle school teachers are pressured as intensely as those DC teachers. It's incredible for me to see kids who clearly know nothing about these subjects passing them.

I've been called in to administrators over the years to explain why I failed students. Usually it's not so hard for me. This one was absent 200 times in one month. That one failed every test. I don't fail students just for fun. I'd actually like to see them pass. It's tough, though, when the students  only come in two or three times a week, or month, or whatever. When you look at their grades and see that this is what they do in every class, it's even tougher.

You can call homes. I'm a great believer in calling homes. But once you do this four or five times with no change in behavior, it becomes an empty exercise. It's ridiculous to rate teachers for student performance. We are all humans. We do what we want. If what a student wants does not entail going to school, it's not the teacher's fault.

This lunacy was largely fostered under the Obama administration with all that Race to the Top nonsense. Arne Duncan and John King bought every reformy notion under the sun. Now you see them on Twitter, mustering the audacity to criticize Betsy DeVos simply because she's as incompetent and unqualified as they were.

I certainly play a part in what goes on in my classroom. I take responsibility for that. But until my job entails going to student homes, waking them up, getting them out of bed and dragging them to school, it's ridiculous to blame me for their grades. I can wake them up when they nod off in my classroom. But I still can't make them go to sleep before 3 AM.

There are a lot of factors in education. The American movement to blame the teacher for absolutely everything is short-sighted. While it satisfies the blood thirst of those who hate us and everything we stand for, while it makes some people feel good to punish us for the offense of devoting our lives to the welfare of America's children, letting kids and families completely off the hook for this behavior is not productive. When mom and dad have to work round the clock to make ends meet, it's hard for them to look after their kids.

As far as I can tell, we're moving farther away from offering help where help is needed. Just look at the insane GOP tax bill that rewards those who least need it, kicks children off of health care, and makes it even harder for working Americans to reach or maintain middle class.

But hey, let's forget all that and blame the teachers. It's the American Way.
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