Saturday, December 16, 2006


What If You Gave A Graduation, And Nobody Came?

The letter goes a little something like this:

As I mentioned at the faculty meeting, we are seeing an alarming number of F grades. We are doing some things for the other grade levels, but for seniors we are going to have an assembly this Friday, December 15th. Only send students with the attached passes. Please do not tell them in advance what it is about.

It's not exactly clear to me how bad the problem is in the other grades, but the word is that more than 50% of seniors are currently failing at least one class that they need to graduate. This is on top of the trend at our school of having an entering freshman class of 1,000 dwindle to around 500 by the time those same kids are seniors.

Who knows? Maybe the system demands it. I know that at our school, most classes have to count on an absent kid or two in order to have enough desks so that no child has to sit on the floor. We're at 2,500 now; how would we possibly handle the 4,000 if no one dropped out?

Maybe the assembly will help. Maybe they will be motivated by the idea that their class is set to break the record for lowest percentage of graduating students.

However, I was a bit disturbed by the solution proposed by the counselors. They want the kids to go to their teachers and get a bunch of make-up work. The message for the kids is that they don't have to be responsible, and if they get into trouble, someone will always be there to give them second chances and clean up their messes for them. And really, the children have been given all the work they need to pass their classes. They chose not to do it.

This wonder solution actually rewards the student and punishes the teacher for the bad behavior of the student! Here's the second message. Counselor says go to your teacher for make-up work and you can pass. The burden has now been subtly shifted to the teacher. If you don't pass, it's because the teacher has not given you enough make-up work.

Another message? All you need to pass are a couple of worksheets. Your teacher isn't doing anything so important that a worksheet or two here or there can't fully cover it. You may not know it, but I definitely know that the counselors are not suggesting that some student come in for twenty or thirty hours of full lessons after school. "Okay Billy, you didn't turn in the essay we did on November 3rd-5th, so for the next three days, you will come in after school for an hour each day and I will fully teach those lesson plans to you." And that's just for one assignment. Not going to happen. Is a Social Studies teacher going to walk a kid through a ten page, two week research paper? Even if the teachers were willing, and even if there were enough hours in the day to make this possible for every single failing student that a teacher might have, do you really think the kids would show up?

Let's take a little side trip. A kid gets suspended for five days. The relevant counselor or administrator will ask for (or DEMAND) homework for the days the student will be gone. I'll give you three guesses of how many kids have turned in those assignments in the past eleven years. Did you make your guesses? Good. If you guessed any number higher than zero, you need to go back and do some rereading.

The answer is no, they won't show up. BUT, the counselor just told them you would make it all right with some make-up work. So if they don't have to repeat the lessons, which means they don't have to make up the actual work they missed, what work will they be doing? Now we're back to those pesky worksheets.

The third message? It's a nice warm loogey spit in the face of every kid who did work hard, did take responsibility, did the right thing, only to be told that their effort was a waste and that they were suckers for not goofing off and enjoying themselves and just doing a couple of worksheets at the end of the semester.

Oh, and what does a counselor tell a teacher who has a "no late work" policy? If I was building a house, it would be like someone coming in at night and randomly pulling out nails, then complaining about what a lousy construction worker I am when the house falls down. If this was war, we'd call it sabotage.

Maybe next time we can talk about the motives of the saboteurs, unless something even more ridiculous comes up.

Actual Update: Talk about serendipity! I put this up this morning, and the wonderful Joanne Jacobs puts up not one, but two posts intimately related to what you've just read, also this morning?

Actual Update: Yep, it's kids like these that we're supposed to get 100% passing on the Exit Exam, with your job hanging in the balance if you don't.
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