Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Educational Malpractice

Long-time readers of this blog know that I'm not in the camp that reflexively calls schools or teachers bad.  I'm in the "culture" camp, believing that schools are a microcosm of the communities they serve and that low-performing schools are low-performing not because their teachers are bad (most probably aren't) but because there's a culture in the community that doesn't value school.  Here and there, hither and yon, there are schools that are able to turn out well-educated students despite the odds, but such schools require a Jaime Escalante or a Joe Clark and sadly, educators like them are *not* plentiful or even easy to find.

But I also don't shy away from identifying when schools (and districts) shoot themselves in the foot with stupid ideas or, worse, educational malpractice.  My own district is, for change's sake, switching from "American traditional" math in high schools to "integrated math", and that's a disaster waiting to happen.  But what I heard today just made my heart melt.

Twice today I heard reference to taking a course online (from a major university west of the Rockies).  It's one thing to take California's required "health" class online in order to free up a class in a student's schedule at school, it's another to take a math class online--and the reasons for doing so are painful.

As someone who's busting his hump getting a master's degree in math online, I can tell you that one class a semester takes 1 1/2-2 hours of work per weekday--I'm pretty good at math and I'm motivated to learn, and that's what it takes me.  I can scarcely imagine how a math class delivered online could be as good or as effective as one delivered in person.

The first student to talk to me today wants to drop my statistics class at the semester.  This student is working very hard and earning a C, and I've made it clear that next semester's curriculum is "mathier".  As I said, this student works hard but admits to not being "good at math", and then told me that he/she took Algebra 2 online via the west-of-the-Rockies university in order to pass it.

Later in the day a second student came to tell me that he/she would be dropping my other class at the semester.  This student is not earning a passing grade and I'm not surprised that I won't be seeing him/her next semester.  What bothers me, though, is that the student then informed me that he/she would be taking the course online via west-of-the-Rockies university.  I asked, why take it at all?  The reply:  I can pass it there.

These are not mere incorrect perceptions.  In fact, they're very accurate perceptions--students can pass those online courses, even though they wouldn't stand a chance of passing the "same" class at our school.  Our school district knows this, too, and still approves such classes for credit.  And note that the first student mentioned above took Algebra 2 there, do you think that's coincidental?  Or do you think it's because Algebra 2 is a required class to get into almost every university in the country?

Our school district also has a computerized "credit recovery" program.  Like "the miracle of summer school", students who have failed classes--in many cases, failed so many that they'd never graduate on time were it not for credit recovery--can make up their classes via online programs.  One of our teachers taught/supervised that program for a semester and refused to do it after that, saying there's no education taking place in that program.  I exaggerate only slightly:  a student can read a couple things on the computer screen, answer a couple questions on the next screen about what they just read, and voila! Instant education.  That's how they "pass".  I've seen students make up semesters of failed classes in a month or two and then come back to our school in time to graduate.

So the school district in which I work allows students to bypass the already low bar we have for a high school diploma.  It seems that getting students to graduate is far more important than getting them to learn.  In effect, we're selling hollowed out and debased credentials.  Let me say that again:  We're selling. meaningless. credentials.

Would it be better if kids who aren't educated didn't get a diploma?  What's the value in a diploma if we give them to everyone?

In this instance my school district participates in educational malpractice.  We could, and should, do better.

Update:  Now that I think of it, I haven't heard of the credit recovery program this school year.  To be honest I don't know if it still exists in our district, I'll find out and update.

Update #2, 12/11/14:  Yes, we still have it at our school.


Jerry Doctor said...

For about ten years I was the chairman of the science department at one of the largest high schools in the state. It seemed like half my time was spent arguing with counselors.

"No, we can't put him in the biology class we designed for LOW ability students just because he failed regular biology twice."

"But he won't graduate with his friends."

"He would have if he hadn't missed 40 days of school."

I lost track of the number of times I told them "Your job is to get them a diploma. My job is to get them an education. These are not the same thing."

maxutils said...

I'm really worried about my son despite excelling in math, it appears that this new plan is going to prevent him from even being able to take calculus. Any suggestions about how to game the system?

Darren said...

Homeschool. Local Catholic high school.

Jerry Doctor said...


Darren pretty much nailed it in his recommendations. Even public schools that have reputations for high academic standards are not safe. Tom Brokaw once called my school "the crown jewel in the Public Schools" on national television. We'd had three Westinghouse Science Fair winners. More of our students got 5's on AP science exams than all the rest of the schools in the state combined. But the year after I retired the central administration said we could not longer require a student pass Algebra before taking Physics.

We were once told by the by the district that we were by far the best high school in the city. That was not acceptable. They wanted seven high schools that were "equal." They got them.

As Darren said, homeschool or Catholic school.

maxutils said...

I thought of homeschool, for math anyway … I may just supplement. Why did the union let this happen?

Darren said...

Curriculum is not the union's business. And even if it were, do you think a *union* is going to go against Saint Barack's Common Core?

maxutils said...

Jerry Doctor … the problem with the local Catholic school is that it isn't very good, and costs a fortune. I would much rather trust my son to Darren and his department mates than do that … and the problem with home schooling is that my ex-wife doesn't know enough math, and I don't see him enough to do a good job on a daily basis. I would rather believe that this dies in the next year, but even then? Entrust him to Darren school. Darren, yes, curriculum is the union's business -- they get a say. I sat on two separate curriculum adoption boards. And, I guess not about common core … since one of my boards adopted econ texts that 'didn't have so much math' -- and sucked, but when I was with the math teachers? Hatred of integrated math was universal, and we got to pick the texts. Hence, my question. Has the district just started hiring idiots at math positions? Do the smart ones (and I very much include you ) do not care enough to fight for a better curriculum? Because the district doesn't approve a text without teacher approval.

Darren said...

Elk Grove did it. And they got a few teachers at a few schools to approve it as well.

The "straw poll" meeting I went to had the teachers overwhelmingly against--but we knew the decision was already made before we got there.

And I *still* disagree that unions have any responsibility over choosing curriculum, that's not their bailiwick.

Ellen K said...

We have a problem similar to yours with credit recovery and online classes. We have a delusional parent of a very low testing unaware autistic student. The mother insists the child is normal and capable of the regular curriculum. As a result-and due to fear of a lawyer father-we are jumping through hoops of fire to "help" her pass. The poor Spanish teacher has sometimes given her the same test four times (Mom thought she would do fine because their maid is Hispanic-I do not kid you...) Oddly enough, on her classes she takes online over the summer, the student always makes A's. Yet the classes she takes with massive assistance in the regular class, she barely passes. We have had this scenario acted out multiple times. I sit in ARD's with the parents of kids who have an IQ of 75 and listen to the Resource and SpEd teachers prattle on about the student's goal of college. It makes me want to scream.

maxutils said...

I think that's debatable Darren … at least in your district, there is a negotiated process by which texts -- and therefor curriculum -- is chosen. I just hope that they are quicker to axe this than they were when I started, when CPM was the … sort of … rage. Or at least that they offer a separate program for people who are actually good at math.

Darren said...

Our district, and our teachers/Obama-acolytes (but I repeat myself), are diving into the deep end of the Common Core pool.

PeggyU said...

CPM should be buried with a stake driven through its heart, if it has one.

Max: Who has him during the summer? It seems to me that both you and your ex-wife would want what is best for your son, so why not see if you can arrange a schedule that would still be fair to both parents but would allow for a more continuous block of time to home school? I don't know if that's possible, but thought I'd at least offer the idea.

PeggyU said...

Oh, wait! Stoooopid me!

I just figured out how you can game the system without actually gaming the system! :D

Send him to college if you can. In our state we have something called "Running Start" where kids can take college classes while in high school, as long as those classes don't interfere with the rest of their schedules. I have known high school kids to take calculus at the college rather than at the high school. It seems they universally use the same textbook (Stewart).

I can't imagine they don't offer this option in California as well.

maxutils said...

Peggy U … that's definitely an option, and I appreciate your suggestions. We share time. But I want him taking math at school on a daily basis, too… I 'd like to be more of a 'hole filler.' The math department is excellent, and I'm sure they will do the best they can. CPM -- yes. Especially when you let students self select between real math and easy math … it does have a few great activities, especially in geometry, which I have stolen, but as an overall program? Worthless. I've considered the college idea, but that's difficult to schedule, and it has to be a course not provided by the school … with integrated, how do you define that?

PeggyU said...

With integrated, how do you define that? Non-traditional and oversold, that's how I'd define it. Not a fan of integrated. I think it's something that might be done well by some teachers in some settings, but on the whole I think it is courting disaster. One of those experiments that works well under certain conditions but is difficult to reproduce.

If the college offers a straight up calculus course and the high school doesn't, then I should think that would fit the bill. I'd do it in a heartbeat, even if it meant juggling a difficult schedule.