Friday, January 22, 2010

It Has Failed Us

Our educational system has failed us. Or, rather, it has failed our young people, and since they are the future of our country, you might as well say it has failed all of us.

My brother lives in a town not unlike many across this county. It has a wide diversity in its population, in educational levels, income levels, and skills. It is not a town of the extremely wealthy, but of blue collar workers and business people, nurses and secretaries, intact families and single parents, although it sits right next door to three of the wealthiest communities in the entire country (north, south, and east).

I have been volunteering during my sabbatical at an after-school program for middle school students that draws from four middle schools in town. These young people, like their community, have diverse backgrounds and families. Basically, these are good kids, whose parents care enough about them to send them to an after-school program, rather than letting them be latch-key children, at home watching TV or playing video games. But I am stunned by their abilities, or lack thereof.

These are 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. Like the population the program draws from, their educational abilities vary. I am concerned about several students in the program. One does not know his multiplication tables at the age of twelve. Another has great difficulty reading his social studies text book. I suspect that he reads well below grade level. Some of the homework I have seen appears to be busywork, not what I would expect for middle school students. Many finish their homework in 30 minutes or less. How is this preparing them for the world of high school and beyond?

I must admit, due to confidentiality, I do not know if they have tutors at school or are enrolled in special education classes to help them with these challenges. But, regardless, I am floored that they have been allowed to progress from one grade level to another without the very basic skills of reading and basic math. I have worked with them, sat right next to them while they did their homework. These kids are not dumb; they can understand more complex math problems than multiplication tables when the concepts are explained to them. I don't know what to say about the reading issue; reading cannot be taught overnight.

A friend of mine works in this same school district. She teaches basic reading concepts to kindergarteners. In a classroom test of reading skills and pre-reading concepts at her students' grade level, most of the kindergarten grades in the district scored deplorable levels of 13% to 25%; my friend's kindergarten classroom scored a 78%. The kids in her class are no different from kids in any other schools in the district; she's just a better teacher.

Something in our educational system needs to change, but I'm not sure what. For starters, I'd get rid of tenure and pay our educators better. The rich should not be the only ones with an educational edge. We will never be a fully democratic country until such time that all of our children have equal access to education.

Unfortunately, I don't think a change of this magnitude is going to happen in my lifetime.

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that kids are brighter in some aspects these days, but lacking in other areas like basic education. Ask any 20 something who was in the Revolutionary War and you will get some very entertaining answers.