28 August 2014
I was trying to take a short nap before my favorite radio program, “Coast to Coast AM” (http://coasttocoastam.com) Kiro 97.3 FM comes on at 10PM (until 2AM). I woke up around 9PM and felt like checking my Twitter account (@bj_rocha). When I logged on, I noticed that I had four notifications in the notification bar. I was curious, and so I clicked on the link to see what mystery I would be in for.
There were three responses from a person who apparently disliked what I had to say regarding a recent article coming out spilling the fact that Washington (WA) State grade schools are the worst in the Country as many children are failing. Having grown up in this state, I can completely see the validity of this problem.
One remark I had made, which sparked this persons apparent irritation, was that fault (in part) lays with teachers who pass students onto the next grade without actually making sure they are ready. This person’s argument was that research (which this person failed to provide) shows that holding a child back is a problem, and is in fact – failing them.
Of course, I can’t leave anything alone, so I answered back. This resulted in an interesting dialogue regarding the school system, testing, poverty vs. wealth and parent intervention.
His assertion was that testing in this state is the biggest problem. That testing doesn’t measure everything. However, I pointed out that testing does, in fact, point out whether or not a child has basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. Yes, our state government holds a lot of esteem in testing, however, student’s are not spending 100% of their time in class testing.
Part of the problem lays on how teachers are taught to teach in our state. Also, after a while, teachers become lax on teaching. I am not sure as to whether this is due to them hating their job, or just not caring anymore. Many other factors contribute as well, such as class size, materials, and even encouragement.
When I was in High School (graduated in 2005), I had trouble in an English class. Not because I didn’t understand the content, but because other student’s did not understand the content. Furthermore, my teacher, who was actually trying to teach the class, had to go over basic rules of grammar that these students should have had a basic understanding of before being allowed into 9th grade. By this time, it was 11th grade. She couldn’t teach the course content because she had to spend extra time going back to teach these students something they should’ve had a grasp of years earlier.
This turned out to be a major problem, as I was someone who tried my best, despite my poor socioeconomic upbringing. I grew up in a low-income household, and even spent time in foster care. My parent’s weren’t the one’s who helped me through this, I had no resources, I had nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Through encouragement from my first (of three) elementary school’s Librarian’s, I ended up finding a peaceful joy and hunger in reading and writing.
Since then, I noticed something. Teachers have the power to change lives. Sometimes, all they need is to motivate a child (or children) to do better. Sometimes, all they have to do is hold them to higher standards. Sometimes, all they have to do is pay a little more attention. However, this must begin at an early level, such as between preschool and third grade.
I digress..where was I? Ah, yes. As I had the encouragement at a younger age, I was able to find joy in learning, and so I tried my best, despite the fact that I was a poor child. So, when I came to my new High School, and found that I was being “held back” in a way – not because I wasn’t grasping the work, but because other students weren’t grasping the work leaving me hanging in the balance – I felt helpless.
That English class, was the breaking point for me. I knew that if I didn’t take charge of my education, I wouldn’t get very far. I couldn’t learn the course content as the teacher spent all her time teaching the other student’s basic skills. I took her aside one day and talked to her about this. As I had been doing exceptional on assignments (writing is, after all – a passion of mine), she felt that I would be able to switch to a creative writing class instead.
From there, my new teacher (who would be my English teacher the next year) realized that I wouldn’t get much out of her class as she had the same problem in her English classes with student’s who didn’t grasp basic writing concepts for their grade level. After having talked it over with my Sociology teacher (who also taught AP Composition – which is like English 101) it was decided that I would take AP Composition the next year. I was pleased, finally, a class where I would feel challenged and for once be with other student’s at my level. While I did not ace that class, I did pass with a B and felt very grateful that I had the opportunity.
This brings me to my next point. When teachers pass students onto the next grade level who are not ready to meet those needs, they are not just doing the students who they have passed a disservice. They are ensuring that those students who do possess the necessary skills needed for class end up being dragged down – emotionally and educationally.
Those students who do possess such skills are not able to proceed because the teachers attention is mostly focused on the students who are struggling due to lack of understand basic reading and comprehension skills. This does not translate simply to grade school. I personally encountered this recently in College as well.
College students, be aware. When you are taking a college class, the last thing you are going to think is that student’s who don’t belong in that class will be there. I was recently in a Spreadsheets class, which taught Excel 2013 and many of its confusing functions. This class is a requirement of the degree I am pursuing, and so I did my best. While I received an excellent grade in the end (95.4% with 100% on the Final) it was a little difficult because there were students in that class that were struggling simply because they could not understand the sentence structure in a college level textbook in which they were reading.
Those of us who were trying to pass and get homework done were struggling simply because we did not understand the content. Why? Because the teacher was busy spending his time going over Chapter 5 with students, when we had to have assignments from each chapter in between on up to 9 finished and turned in on time. When you are working with an online tool such as canvas, they are able to see when your assignments are turned in late. This meant that we not only had to read the chapter’s on our own, but we had to interpret it’s meaning and apply logic to the assignments on our own. This meant many hours spent in the Campus library and computer lab.
What is the point of all of this?
The point is, that many factors contribute to a failing school system. Not simply the amount of time spent on testing. The person of whom I was having a twitter debate with asserted that wealthier children did better because they are more advantaged and proceeded to say that was why poor children did poorly. That is not necessarily true. Yes, wealthier children are more privileged, but at the early education level, they still had to learn their ABC’s and 123’s the same way as anyone else’s child.
This is oftentimes in the form of their parents teaching them their most important skills. I work with low-income/homeless parents and their children. I see first hand how the difference in parenting styles vs how prepared education their children are. This is not simply parenting style, but also, the parent’s own ability to teach their children.
I have personally noticed that children of parents (no matter their education level) who have read to them each day from a children’s book, or help them with learning their ABC’s, 123’s, shapes, colors, etc…those are the children who do better than the ones who simply come in to use the facility and basically ignore their kids. Parent’s (despite their educational background) can still and must play a pivotal part in their children’s upbringing and education. They must instill a love of learning themselves.
If the child doesn’t see mom or dad reading or even trying to go back to school (even for a GED), then how are they going to respect their decision for them to receive an education? They think that it’s not a big deal for mom and dad, so why should they do it?
It is my opinion that saying that children from wealthier families do better because they have money and can afford things like music and sports, etc is absurd. Children from wealthier families do better because they are pushed to do better. They see their parents doing good and want to do good themselves. So they push themselves. If a child from a low-income community sees their parents (or any other role model) going to school, working, etc then they are more than likely to follow in that persons footsteps to gain approval.
While music and sports is nice, they have nothing to do with learning basic skills. Besides, many school do offer music and sports. For low-income families, many of these schools offer waivers and scholarships. Many schools also offer tutoring, and if they cannot get tutoring from their schools, then most libraries offer tutoring, yet – how many people actually take advantage of it?
There is so much more I could say about this subject, and perhaps will in the future. However, it is already late and I would like to listen to Coast to Coast AM before going to bed, as I have already missed an hour.