When will the dialog shift, or balance, to taking the kids in the middle from good to great?

To the Gazette:

A recap article of a recent USD402 meeting began with the BOE statement ‘student failure should not be an option’.

This sentiment ignores reality – what should be, what is, and what can be – are very different. The statement above sounds suspiciously like No Child Left Behind, from which I thought we were moving away. Maybe only the name NCLB has been interred, and the concept lingers on. Reality is life is not fair, and everyone fails at some point – it may stink, but it is true and unchangeable. It is admirable to work to reduce failure. But this work is ground floor, block and tackle, individual stuff – usually not a policy problem. When will the dialog shift, or balance, to taking the kids in the middle from good to great? How do we get a C student to a B student? This is much more relevant- as C is firmly in the middle, where most of us are. Currently it seems all solutions to growing the middle include more control of those who can help, and skewing the definition of middle to the south so everyone can feel better.

Our state has a solution - hold failing kids back somewhere between first and third grade - this can be known as SCKB, or Some Children Kept Behind. At first and last blush, this does not seem like a solution either.

Education policy makers need to grasp a concept that economists have long held - there is a certain part of the population that is unemployable. This is neither good nor bad, but reality, and as such must be addressed. In school, a certain population will fail (in school, not life) - accept it, and address alternatives. Economically we have developed a social safety net - with most rational debate being the size and scope of said net. Education can do the same, but first we need to stop defining failure from standardized tests - I believe then the net we will need will be much smaller.

Back to the article, the troubling point was when it was noted Augusta has identified three factors correlating to some definition of failure – attendance, behavior and course completion. The first two – attendance and behavior – were summarily dismissed, and the focus was on course completion. It was noted there are inconsistencies among teachers in accepting homework late or not, and the statement made ‘we want to get on the same page’. I read this as ‘parents are OK, kids are OK, but we have a teacher or lack of policy problem’. I suppose this is possible, but the concept is jolting.

If course completion is the issue, why is AHS reportedly adding more courses? If attendance and behavior truly are not a problem for our Augusta kids, Augusta must have the greatest parent/child/socioeconomic structure in the world – bottle the recipe that led to this and sell it – this would more then pay for the water line to El Dorado Lake.

My interpretation - of the solution proposed at the meeting to help ‘course completion’ - is elimination or reduction in homework, and worse - more control of teachers. The education studies I have read have some commonality– good teacher relates to good outcome, teacher freedom (but not carte blanch) relates to good outcome, and top down administration led universal solutions rarely work (at a macro level NCLB is Exhibit A, maybe SCKB can be Exhibit B).

From a different angle, students figuring out which teachers give more homework, which teachers are lenient, and which teachers play favorites for whatever reason – and then determining how to approach each challenge - is a very valuable life lesson. This lesson being arguably more universally useful then the chart of elements or the wisdom of Shakespeare.

Respectfully I note I did not attend or watch on TV the BOE meeting – my opinion is merely from reading the Gazette. As such, my opinions herein may be off base to the actual BOE meeting. Also please note I do not personally advocate elimination of help for those in need. However, I do firmly believe energy, dialog and resources are focused to the detriment of many. Balance some thought to the kids in the middle, and stop spending so much energy on an ideal that cannot exist. Prescribing more rules and admin burden for the people (teachers) who can actually help, limits their freedom and ability to do so.

Tim Johnson