Monday, November 23, 2015

Failures of Public School Mirrored in Higher Ed


By Professor Doom

     Everyone knows that the public schools have been failing, and failing hard, for years. Yes, there are exceptional schools, but we need only look to the children of the rich, or of the politicians (often the same people) to see that people with any choice in the matter don’t send their kids to public schools.

     A recent resignation letter by a teacher in the public school system went viral. She details what’s happening to teaching in the public school system. While I’m in no position to argue with her, I do see some parallels to what’s going on in higher education.


--a special ed student, socially promoted through the public school system, ended at my community college. Although even the middle school material that is typical for community college was wildly beyond his capabilities, after 7 years (and special dispensation from admin desperate to have graduates), he finally managed to get his 2 year degree. One day, in strange circumstances, he got excited and punched me full in the face, with dozens of witnesses, including a sub-Poo Bah. I argued against disciplinary action—the poor kid had enough problems.

      The teacher in question has a graduate degree in “special needs” children, as strange a label as there is. Each child is an individual, and thus each child has special needs, in my opinion. I reckon the teacher would be inclined to agree with my point of view to some extent:

My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

     The intense regimentation of the public schools has its echo in the “computer courses” that are becoming ever more popular in higher education. Students all read the same pages at the same time, take the same tests (all multiple choice, thanks to the huge class sizes of higher education), and submit the same answers (again, a multiple choice test, which also leads to even “A” students being nearly incapable of writing anything). Even if it’s not all done on the computer, “Scantron Test and PowerPoint” lectures are fairly common, where anyone capable of reading can impersonate a professor, because all the professor does is read the Powerpoint, and grading is automatic. The most popular type of course on campus is the type where the students do absolutely nothing, but the previous types are common enough.

Admin:  “We’ve gathered the data, and we can show that our numbers are a bit higher than before, so we’ve shown improvement.”

Me: “What’s the level of significance?”

Admin: “Huh?”

Me: “The p-value, some indication that the difference between our numbers and whatever standard you are using is meaningful, and not just chance variation.”

Admin: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, and we don’t need to show that to the accreditors.”

Me: “Because they also have absolutely no training in statistics, research, or anything related to legitimate research?”

--I didn’t say that last line, but it was amazing how often I’d deal with an administrator with a Ph.D., a research degree, that not only didn’t know anything about research, but also didn’t believe anyone needed to know anything about research in order to produce useful research.

      What the teacher here has missed is that the reason for the popularity of these strictly regimented courses is the same whether it’s public school or higher education. By converting courses into “one size fits all,” the need for experts, people that actually know the subject, becomes irrelevant. Administrators and their analogous bureaucrats in public education can make the classes infinitely large, because the teacher serves no purpose, to the point that more teachers can be removed. This frees up more money for administrative pay.

The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

      I’ve mentioned before that Common Core ignores science and will do great harm to small children as they’re asked to do things beyond their capabilities. There’s a reason why we teach little kids about using songs to learn the alphabet, about using fingers for counting…Common Core abandons the wisdom of thousands of years of teaching small children, abandons the knowledge of modern (real) science, and trades it all in for a very cheap “one size fits all” system determined by (childless?) bureaucrats that will work for almost nobody. The teacher explains:

Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.

     The system of being forced to hurt people is a little different in higher education:

Admin: “You need use more group projects with your students.”

Me: “Study after study shows group work hurts education, that the more time spent in group work, the less the student learns on his own. Please don’t force this.”

Admin: “I’m not forcing you, but I’ll deduct from your evaluation for unwillingness to use group work.”

--Group work isn’t “forced,” but faculty that refuse to hurt their students are punished, as faculty with higher evaluations are the ones that get bonuses and can move up the ladder.

     The misery being inflicted on our small children may not last as long as the misery of the student loan scam, which puts our young people into a lifetime of debt…but it’s misery all the same, as the teacher details:

They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.

      Bureaucrats in public schools don’t care about crying children, any more than higher education administration cares about hurting young adults. The latter is all about the money, and I reckon public schools are much the same.

On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself.

    This is the big flag for her, and there was a comparable flag for me, as I noticed that none of my colleagues at the community college would send their kids to the community college…some even showed disgust at the thought.

     It’s all too common for workers at our fast food places to refuse to put the food “made” there in their mouths; seeing as these workers have no control over the quality of the fast food, and know full well how foul most of it is, this is quite understandable. Our educational systems are run the same way, with educators in no control of education. How is it a wonder that what we call “education” is so disgusting now that the workers in them are completely unwilling to put their kids in the system?

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