Friday, April 24, 2015

Education - Lies your high school may not know they told you

Older Kid was watching over my shoulder as I wrote a new post in this series, and she asked a great question: What exactly is your premise for these articles?

Okay, then. I need to make that clear. It's my opinion that public schools have become focused on the "business" of education. They treat students like units of production, rather than people with individual needs.

Why do I think that? Because schools are all about the numbers. GPAs, SATs, percentiles, reading levels, % free-and-reduced lunches, end-of-grade tests, adequate yearly progress, graduation rates, enrollment on September 15th. When you ask what the quality of a school is, most of the time, you're told a number.

I don't care about a school's numbers. I only care about how well my child would learn there.

Let me say upfront that this is not a slam against teachers. I believe most try really hard to do a good job. I have friends who are compassionate, committed teachers. I grew up in a family of amazing teachers. My sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all public school teachers. They loved teaching. They agonized over how to help their students. They worked too hard for too little pay.

I also believe that many students will do just fine in regular schools. However, if you're a kid who has any of the following factors, you're in danger of being failed by the system.

  • A socio-economic/family background that doesn't value learning
  • A brain that can't juggle a lot of different subjects simultaneously
  • Health issues, including insomnia
  • Learning disabilities
  • Genius IQ or unconventional interests
  • Behavior patterns that are viewed unfavorably by the school

The local school system failed my kids. One had health issues. The other had learning disabilities. Actually, I failed them too--because I let too much time elapse while I kept hoping for things to get better.

In North Carolina, we have two departments that administrate schools: the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Department of Non Public Education (DNPE). It's interesting to note that public schools have "instruction" and non-public schools have "education."

I'm not sure why American schools have gone in this direction. I lay a lot of the blame on state legislatures, who have no clue what it takes to educate children from multiple socio-economic backgrounds and with varying skills, learning styles, and intelligences. Most legislators fall back on asking for numbers, perhaps because they don't know any better, perhaps because they're distracted by the money that inevitably circulates around an enterprise this big.

Of course, if I blame government officials, then I have to blame voters too--'cause we're the ones putting the wrong people into power.

Bottom line: It is my opinion that public schools are too focused on the business of generating "numbers" -- and not focused enough on helping kids. Some students will do fine anyway, but there are many who won't, and they don't deserve to be failed by public education.


  1. I left public education after 12 years. I spent a year developing benchmarks and SGOs in order to generate useless numbers. You hit the nail on the head with your assessment of the groups who we fail in public schools. My own child was failed by public education. There is no one-size-fits-all, yet there is this need to quantify everything. No easy fix for this situation, until we move towards being a culture that values the process and long term rewards, versus the short term outcome.

  2. You're so right about the 'one size fits all' thing. One of my girls had an IEP. When we were in the process of creating it, I remember thinking "why don't all kids have an individualized education plan"? If we have to measure something, let's measure how well each child is performing over time. As long as their movement is generally forward, then yay!

    When Older Kid was in elementary school, she was assigned to a teacher who was meaner than a snake. Really, the woman shouldn't be allowed around children. I mentioned this to a neighbor, who said that, yeah, everybody knew that. *Excuse me, what?* The neighbor went on to say that the principal couldn't do anything about it because the teacher's "numbers are good."