Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Excelling in the Welfare State

Walter Williams has an interesting article out today that speaks on black urban education. While this is the focus of the article, I think that the principles apply to us all.

Douglass High School teachers and staff appeared to be concerned and caring people, but the poor quality educational outcomes (The stats he gives for the school are atrocious. I will get to them in a minute.) demonstrate that concern and caring is not enough. The virtually empty classrooms, filmed on back-to-school night, suggested little parental interest in their children's education. School day behavior demonstrated little student interest. Some students spent class time laughing, joking and tussling with one another. Others had their heads lying on their desks or appeared uninterested in the teacher's discussion. Many of those engaged in student-teacher exchange on academic topics showed very limited reasoning ability.

I think the Dr. Williams is right. Caring teachers are not enough to provide a child with education (even if all you mean by education is the ability to read well and cipher well). Parents play a major role; parents that don't care usually produce students that don't care. Students that accept the low expectations of society internalize them and follow through on them. (This is one of the reasons I love

Politicians and the teaching establishment say more money, smaller classes and newer buildings are necessary for black academic excellence. At Frederick Douglass' founding (in 1883), it didn't have the resources available today. If blacks can achieve at a time when there was far greater poverty, gross discrimination and fewer opportunities, what says blacks cannot achieve today? Whether we want to own up to it or not, the welfare state has done what Jim Crow, gross discrimination and poverty could not have done. It has contributed to the breakdown of the black family structure and has helped establish a set of values alien to traditional values of high moral standards, hard work and achievement.

He is so right that the breakdown of the family has been a leading factor to the decay of this nation. I would take it a step further and say that people have step further and say that when people stop being governed internally by the Spirit and self-discipline moral decline is inevitable.

And now to the stats of this school. . . Here is a small sample.

Douglass' students are four to five years below grade level. Most of its ninth-graders read at the third-, fourth- or fifth-grade levels.

How does society benefit by promoting people who are not proficient in reading? With each grade level, the text books move up a notch in reading difficulty. So if you are continuously promoted but don't have the reading skills, you will understand less and less of your textbooks. Wouldn't a fourth grader be frustrated if all of their textbooks were written at a 11th grade level of literacy? I wish we had a system that only passed children when they had achieved the standards for that grade. Why are we so certain that age homogeneous groupings are best? Why don't we have ability homogeneous groups? Why can't a student be third grade in reading, 5th grade in math, and 4th grade in history? I suppose the logistics of that wouldn't work at government schools, but really I think that age homogeneous groupings do a disservice to our government school kids.


Karen said...

When I was in 5th or 6th grade, there was a girl in our class who was a much older teenager. I can name three other students who I can remember were held back. It was understood at my school that you had to pass the work to move forward.

When I worked as a music teacher in a public school, there were a few students who earned failing grades in my class because they consistently refused to participate. I was approached by another teacher who cautioned me that I keep very good records and have very good reasons for those failures (which I did anyway), because teachers were often called on to defend those grades. I suppose I understand that parents can be upset, but instead of being upset at little Johnny's disrespect and lack of effort in the classroom, they go after the teachers. The message I got was to be sure it was worth it. I often wonder how much that plays into this problem of passing along children who are failing, not that it's the right thing to do.

Isn't it wonderful that in homeschooling, your child can be at his learning level for every subject like you talk about in this post? Being able to individualize curriculum to my children's learning styles and needs is one reason I homeschool.

Applied Christianity said...


What you said reminded me of my brother-in-law. He used to teach third grade. He tried to fail one student who desparately needed it. The principal told him in no uncertain terms that he was to pass the kid anyway. District policy and all that. I think they were scared of law suits or something.