Friday, July 27, 2012

How about some parent/student accountability?

Maine Governor Paul LePage says school districts should pay for any remedial courses their graduates have to take in college.  Evidently, a recent study placed Maine 40th out of 41 states for improvements in student test scores between 1992 and 2011 for fourth- and eighth-graders in math, reading and science.

The governor is, understandably, unhappy with the numbers.  He's also unhappy that, according to his information, 54 percent of those entering Maine's community colleges have to take remedial courses to re-learn basic tools. The same goes for 20 to 25 percent of the state's four-year university students.

I understand why LePage is concerned ... I really do.  What I don't understand is his plan to make school districts pay for the remedial courses of their graduates.  The governor, a Republican, should know very well that GOP-controlled legislatures around the country have cut education funding.  Teachers have been laid off and many, many school districts have frozen salaries and dropped programs such as tutoring.

I have a different plan for Maine:  make students and parents responsible and accountable!  Hell, I'm evauated every year!  This past year, it took FIVE hours for me to prepare the required documents just for the pre-evaluation conference!  And it took me another FOUR hours to prepare the post-evaluation documents!  That's NINE hours I could have spent planning creative lessons, grading papers, calling parents, etc.  So ... why not include two more components in the accountability picture:  students and parents?

Let's just look at some student/parent responsibility, shall we?  The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent but these were students (or parents) in my classes last year:

Pauline:  She made it to class on time just one or two times a week.  Sometimes she wandered in during the last fifteen minutes of class.  Her explanation?  "I just don't like to get up early."  For every minute she was late, she missed instruction.

Jose:  Never turned in a homework assignment ... not one.  He squeaked by the class with a D - 60.6% - (decent work in class and barely passing on tests) so he got credit toward high school graduation.  He's one of hundreds of students in my school who are quite comfortable with squeaking by.  Should Jose go to a community college, he'll get in - no doubt - but he most certainly will need some remedial classes because HE refused to get the basics in high school.

Ronnie:  During a test, I was walking around the room and glanced at his bubble sheet.  Hmmm ... his dark circles were in the shape of a car.  He wasn't even reading the questions!  His test score:  61% ... all through luck.

Mrs. Smith:  Her daughter had a hit-and-miss attendance ... just enough to prevent her from being dropped from the class.  I called home several times.  She told me each and every time:  "Johana is old enough to make her own decisions about coming to school."  I wanted to scream in the phone:  "Your daughter is 15 years old! YOU are the parent! DO your job!"  But I didn't because that would have ended up with a complaint being filed against me.  How dare I ask parents to do their job so I can do mine?

You have NO idea how many students and parents mirror the ones outlined above.

I work hard at my job and I work doubly hard trying to reach students who simply want to squeak by ... or don't care at all.  I'm a good teacher.  But I'm not a miracle worker. 

So, Governor LePage, state legislators, and the public at large:  Why not come up with some ideas that include student/parent accountability?  How about a mandatory study hall if a student earns less than a C at the first progress report?  How about mandatory summer school (with tuition paid by the parents, not the school district)?  How about mandatory parent attendance at conferences? I will bet my next paycheck that when parents are inconvenienced, or have to shell out money from THEIR checkbook, the situation will improve.

Last year at Open House, just NINE people showed up in my classroom.  Only SIX of them were parents.  That's out of 169 students!

Yes, I imagine there are some ineffective teachers ... just like there are some ineffective businessmen, politicians, doctors, and car mechanics.  But don't always blame the teachers and schools when two-thirds of the triumverate manage to escape their responsibility in the educational process!

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