Can you find your school here?

This is a list of remediation rates for Dallas-area students that enroll at junior colleges. If you’re not in the Dallas area, just Google up your district name and the keywords “college remediation.”

Now a word on the statistics: you can also see the number of students per graduating class that went to junior college. The percentage of remedial students is a percentage of that number, not the total graduating class.

So why would a student need remediation if he or she was able to graduate high school? Is this evidence of the existence of social promotion, which was supposed to be wiped out with the testing regime imposed waaaaay back in 1990-91? As it turns out, the NCLB act has given it new life.

If a school is going to be considered unacceptable, unclean, and untouchable with a too-high dropout rate, no school administrator is going to want to have a student drop out. Students that fail courses drop out, so the pressure is on to get these guys to pass and graduate. What they do after graduation is not an overriding concern of the school district, at least not enough to take on the real overriding concern to keep from being rated non-performing because of a bunch of kids that, for whatever reasons justified or otherwise, do not perform well at their campuses.

I’m against the idea of schools arbitrarily kicking out students or using expulsion to target unpopular minorities, but I’m equally against the idea of the Vietnamization of schools, where statistics are the end-all and can be tweaked to hide the fact that the actual mission is not being accomplished.

And, the fact is, for all the efforts made at so-called reform, which is actually a bunch of micromanagement and statistical fudgery from above, we still see that nearly all the schools in the Dallas area – and they’re by no means alone – still graduate students that need to be taught what they were supposed to have been taught.

Is it the fault of the teachers? The parents? The administration? The society in which we live? The students themselves? Yes. But the key to success in the schools is not to be punitive. The best program I have ever taught in has been in my own church’s education system. There, the emphasis was on having the right spirit, the right attitude about education. There, we invited the students in. If they did not attend, that was a matter for a case-by-case assessment, not a blanket ruling. We invited the students to participate in the lessons and to find their own value in what we taught. For those who chose to be there, many had a fantastic experience that affected their lives for the better.

I was a student myself in that program when I was in high school, and I don’t remember specific lessons, but I do remember the spirit of that classroom. I remember the teacher’s love and dedication to us, her students, and how that love helped us to enjoy what we were learning. I then think over to my other great teachers in the schools I attended, and it’s the same with them. I don’t recall specific lessons, but I do remember that attention, that love, that dedication, that care for each of us as individuals, rather than as an aggregate of data for accountability reports.

That’s what made my schooling great: the teachers on the front lines that taught with love, often in spite of what their administrators were doing to them. As a teacher, I know I’ve brought that same love and dedication and, yes, I have taught in places where it was in spite of what the administration, state regulations, or NCLB did to me.

I see the numbers for my high school on the list and I have to think that maybe, just maybe, the solution in dealing with the remediation problem might just be in junking the government-mandated high-stakes tests and other punitive metrics and instead dealing with each student as an individual – and realizing that, in a free country, some individuals will simply choose to not participate with the others. They will be left behind. It is sad, but we have to move on.

2 thoughts on “Can you find your school here?

  1. Heyo

    “I don’t recall specific lessons, but I do remember that attention, that love, that dedication, that care for each of us as individuals, rather than as an aggregate of data for accountability reports.”

    I have a huge qualm with this. You’re sounding like you can’t get your point across so you dip down to a rhetorical level with juxtoposition. You’re comparing individual (or a group of) teachers with a census taker or someone who keeps track of an entire district/school/grade of student’s statistics. They would be an aggregate of students for the ease of organization. If you feel a teacher has this much disregard for their students you need to get off your ass and bring this to light with your/their supervisors. Not paint a bad picture to confuse people. You’re no better than the political powers that “brave new world” us with a massive flow of slightly irrelevant information.

    Anyways, this is not the case, and even my worst teachers did not think of students as an aggregate of stats. Maybe in college, but certainly not in highschool.

    By the way I love your writing, you’re a genius and maybe someone who could be considered “awake”. Your synopsis of the comparison’s between Bush and Obama’s actual effectiveness in office was godlike. Thank you for that.

  2. deanwebb Post author

    I don’t see any teachers, even the bad ones, looking at students as aggregates. It’s administrators, some removed from actual campuses and some at the campuses themselves, that easily fall into traps of bean-counting when legislatures impose so-called accountability standards on them. Kind of like when MACV placed emphasis on enemy combatants killed as a metric: that led to incentives for military units to kill civilians and then claim them as enemy combatants.

    As for exposition of the frauds, that’s a possible career-ending move for a teacher. I know a teacher who *did* such a thing at Sunset High School in 1995, and the Dallas ISD’s response to her discussion of grade and attendance fraud with local news station WFAA resulted in the guilty administrators being reassigned and everyone that worked in a program with that teacher – including me – becoming targets for Dallas ISD revenge. Dallas ISD even admitted to defamation per se in court, but got a summary judgment in their favor because we sued the district instead of the individual for defamation. We could have refiled a suit against the individual, but the district would have charged us for their legal fees if we didn’t dismiss the suit with prejudice.

    The problem with the NCLB legislation is that it creates an environment where administrators fear severe consequences for failure to meet metrics. In such stresses, a good number have cracked under pressure and have resorted to dishonesty to avoid punishment. Teachers used to not change answers, superintendents used to not be involved in cheating scandals, and school districts used to not have to panic if a campus was 0.75 Hispanics over the dropout limit for that sub-population.

    Stuff like NCLB and similar rules that create an environment of fear also help to drive off good teachers that are able to take on the challenges of the classroom, but who can’t tolerate the pressures from bad administrative decisions. Poor personnel in administration is for another discussion: suffice to say that, under pressure, poor administrators will throw good teachers under the bus to protect themselves. Without those pressures, poor administrators are less of a threat and more of an annoyance, and teachers in their schools can do a better job because they won’t be micromanaged.

    And, seriously, can you recall *every* lesson your best teachers taught you? Most people only recall the impression of a stream of experiences, with a few standing out in their memories. But we remember our best teachers holistically, creating a sort of personal hagiography built of day after day of impressions from that person. We remember the attention from that teacher, even if the teacher did not think the attention he or she gave us was anything out of the ordinary. It was simply part of his or her way of magnifying the opportunities to inspire that come along with the job of teaching.

    And NCLB-type rules make it harder for such persons to remain in the system. They want to deal with individuals on a case by case basis and NCLB requires that districts address their students as a data pool. The numbers, not the children, become the overriding concern. We need to get to where numbers are there to guide us to something better, not as gateways to punishments.

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