Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Trouble Brewing In Texas Education

With the new implementation of what is popularly known as the "Four By Four" plan for graduation, there are some ominous signs on the horizon. This plan is a way to basically force all high school students to take four math classes and four science classes in order to graduate. The stated purpose is to produce, or as the Father of State Educational Testing H. Ross Perot likes to say, programming kids into tomorrow's future workers. Excuse me for a minute while I wipe away the mental images of the silent film-"Metropolis".(
This means that ALL students have to take Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and Pre-calculus as well as Integrated Physics and Chemistry(formerly known as Earth Science), Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Originally, the classes were designed to be aligned to help students achieve by offering math and science classes that complement each other. Right now in our state, and in most states, there are a good number of kids who have difficulty making it through math and science as required right now. They often veer after Geometry into Math Models due to deficits in math skills. This class will not count towards graduation from what I can understand of the mandate right now. Many students also have hurdles with Chemistry, yet are expected to conquer the more mathematically and theoretically challenging course of Physics. So what gives. There are several possible results.
1. Students rise to the occassion, pass all the classes and go on to become good little workers.
2. Students pass more than 50% of the time, the rest retake the classes delaying graduation.
3. Students pass less than 50% of the time, and after retaking a class drop out and get a GED. (This lowers the schools AYP and brings down the wrath of the education department on the district with lowering funding, increased scrutiny and possible loss of jobs for teachers in spite of doing the best they can with what they are given in the way of students.)
4. Students view the schedule with dismay and dropout proving to be a burden upon society.
5. Stressed students, forced into educational situations they cannot handle, act out in class in a variety of ways, including increased violence, students depression and parental interventions.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know that children are not machines. Making kids take classes that they cannot handle intellectually is just as insensitive as expecting a blind child to take driver's education. I don't know if other states are approaching math and science with such a heavy handed approach, but in the meantime, we have kids that cannot read and write. Shouldn't that be of as much concern as producing future engineers for the uses of industry? Or better yet, since many of the successful students have become adept at the skill of what I like to call Regurgitative Thinking, wouldn't it be nice if our kids could read a book, or solve a problem in a new way without relying on the previous trends, programs or paradigms? I don't think what this nation is suffering from is a lack of math students, I think what we are suffering from is a lack of students who like to learn, who express themselves in creative ways and who value knowledge. And that isn't something that any mandate from any government is going to be able to address or cause to happen. And I doubt making higher requirements will make any of these kids better students. They will just learn the tricks and forget them when they walk out the door. If you don't believe me, talk to some college professors and find out how they are having to teach the elements of reading and writing to their freshmen classes.

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