Monday, April 7, 2008

on (a lack of) education.

As of this writing (Monday, April 7, 2008), Albuquerque Public Schools has been “in session” this semester for 56 days. This excludes days like President's Day and the Spring Break vacation, where we were obviously not in school. However, it does include the six days of SBA testing, mandated by the No Child Left Behind Law. Of those 56 days, I have a student who has been absent 28 days. This obviously means that the same student has been present 28 days. This presents an exact 50/50 split, in favor of this student attending not just my class, but school in general. (I have checked with other teachers and this student's attendance record in my class is by no means unique. This student has 26 absences in Math, 34 in Science, and 25 [haven't spoken with this teacher yet, but I will - talked to her and no surprises there] in Social Studies. The disparity probably isn't real, it's much more likely that a teacher forgot to mark this student as absent than the student was actually present.)

There is much to be concerned about in regards to this pattern of absences, but one thing stands out above all the rest: If any person, in any field was present for only half the required time, that person would not be allowed to continue whatever it was they were doing. If it was a job, they'd be fired. If it was a college course, they'd be dropped. However, when it turns out to be a public school attendance record, absolutely nothing is done. Moreover, when this student fails (which is, in fact, inevitable; no student would be able to muster more than a failing grade when missing literally half the class, not even a student who gets 100% on every other assignment!) we are disallowed from holding this student back. Keep in mind, this is not an isolated event: this student is failing every class, and has for all semester, both semesters. And yet, APS is about to pass the buck on this student. Instead of forcing this student to repeat the term in hopes of acquiring the knowledge they missed out on this year, they will recommend the student repeat the grade, they will get overruled by the parent and the student will move on to 9th grade without having obtained any of the knowledge that they need for this year.

As a teacher, I can think of nothing more frustrating than dedicating my life to trying to help children, finding a child worth helping, trying to help them, and not being allowed to do so. If we're trying to teach the youth of tomorrow that education is truly important, then how can we allow this to happen? Either teachers are valuable people, whose opinions should be listened to and when we say that a student has failed every single class for both semesters, they should be held back, or we're lying when we say school matters. What incentive do kids have to try for decent grades when their classmates can show up half the time and fail, but pass on to the next grade with them regardless?

What can be done? I'm not sure. But I know it's a step in the wrong direction to allow students who fail to move on year after year. It has to change.

(This was something that I just started writing as an angry response to the fact that this student has been absent so much and it kind of took on a life of its own. I submitted it as a letter to the editor to my local paper, but I felt the need to vent a little more, so I'm putting it up here.)


Brando said...

How can this be? People were held back when I was a kid, and they were fucking morons and totally deserved to be held back. However, it's worth mentioning, that those students were pretty pissed about being held back and it really didn't help them, and eventually the teachers passed them anyway just to get rid of them.

But what I don't understand, is why you are not allowed to hold this student back, or why APS does not have some sort of specialized program for these kind of kids to push them through.

Does he hate school? Is he made fun of? Are his parents stereotypical drug addicts that ignore him? Why doesn't he come to school, and that the shit is he doing otherwise? WTF?

Mindy said...

I didn't post a comment right away because I wanted to ruminate on this for awhile.

I had a similar situation in one of my reading groups back in the day when I was a tutor at an elementary school. We had a student whose father pulled him out of school for two months during hunting season. Every year.

There was nothing anyone could do about it - the school administration and teachers were totally apathetic.

It's frustrating - and a clear example of how the public school system is failing kids...but in a greater sense, society is failing kids too.

NCLB SUCKS. It truly does. It's the worst education policy around. But I don't know how to fix the school systems.

After one year's worth of experience in the public schools, I was ready to call it quits and wash my hands of the whole thing.

So - I really respect teachers even more, understanding the crazy standardized testing and bureaucratic bullshit one must put up with.

There is clearly a need for some dramatic change in public schools, to accomodate the changing technology, and to prepare students to not only enter the workforce, but to prepare them for a future that, IMO, is growing increasingly uncertain.

I feel like America is always a generation behind, educationally speaking. We are always preparing kids for the jobs that they could have had yesterday, ya know - not the jobs which are most needed today...

I hope that makes sense...

I think I've degraded into semi-coherent rambling, so I'll leave off.

But yes, there is a lot wrong with that scenario. Letting someone continue to fail should be unacceptable, but - as a human being - there is only so much responsibility one can accept for the fate of these students. Do whatever is in your power, but realize that you can't change EVERYTHING that shapes this child's life. Because it sounds like there are greater forces at work in that situation. And I don't mean God, I mean - parents, class, economics - all that impossible shit.

BTW - Thanks for doing what you do! Teachers are valuable, and should be paid FAR MORE than what they are.

Much Love, Mindy C