Friday, August 12, 2005
Higher Education too High for Some
Now for some thoughts about higher education. I've blogged a little about this here but since we are getting close to the first day of school, more instances of the "what are you doing here" variety have occurred. First of all, college is a privilege, not a right. No matter how lax the standards for some schools are, there ARE standards. Also, just because you've been a good student in high school does NOT mean you'll be one in college; or at least, it may take more effort than you expended in high school to achieve similar grades. I for one found this out. As a friend of mine says, "We'll give you the opportunity to succeed, but we'll also give you the opportunity to fail." A lot of the current generation has learned to manipulate the system enough that they can get by with the minimum of work. Also, parents have taken more of an interest in their children's schooling (good) but set themselves up as agents and/or lawyers for their kids (bad). What I mean by this is, when kids do not do well in a subject or in school overall, parents (and I don't mean all, but there are quite a few) automatically blame the "system." Depending on where the shortcoming occurs, parents will attack that class/teacher/school before actually coming face-to-face with how much work a student has put into school. I know part of this is the "Mama bear-baby cub" complex, but that's not all of it. Somewhere along the line we've become convinced that everything is a right and if you don't get it, you scream and yell or sue to get it. You can see by the parent's involvement that you can't just look at the current students as feeling entitled. They got this attitude from somewhere.

A large part of the problem, apart from the sense of entitlement, occurs because of our woeful secondary education system. All of this is going to sound familiar, but it's true. Teachers are not paid nearly enough to teach in public education, especially as teaching gets to be more of an exercise in trying to maintain discipline and order rather than imparting any knowledge to the class as a whole. Here in Oklahoma, we lose a great amount of our education graduates to places like Texas where teachers can actually receive a living wage. But again, it's not as if they are that much more comfortably off there, either. No one goes into teaching to get rich, but one should at least be able to pay bills, buy a house and become part of the community they are teaching in and feel special about their profession-- because it is a special type of person who voluntarily chooses to become a public school teacher. It used to be because this would allow the person to give back to the community and make a difference; nowadays, it's almost a monastic calling. Monks who give up all worldly pleasures and go off to live in a monastery are induced by a faith I cannot begin to fathom. It appears that teachers in the modern era are, too.

More and more, public education is becoming just a place where you can warehouse kids for a few hours a day so the parents can go to work. The best students almost teach themselves, as they either learn the subjects on their own or are savvy enough to block out the interference of other students to pick up on what the teacher is actually trying to teach. What's sad is that this may work out for those other students and they may be able to get by with "decent" grades, but this does not mean they are ready for college. I understand schools are under increasing pressure to improve test scores and adhere to more and more performance guidelines; yet, they are given no more money and receive no substantial raises to meet these increasing demands. Teachers even get tax breaks for the supplies they buy themselves for their classes. Read that sentence again. In this country, with its massive public educational system, school boards, administrations and laws in place that 1)mandate that each child attend some form of school until 16 and 2)higher and higher educational standards for those students (and, therefore, the teachers and administrators) to live up to, teachers are out the weeks before school starts buying pens, notebooks, crayons etc. just to be able to teach their classes!

Another thing that occurs in high school are overlapping classes. By that I mean classes that "sound" like college courses but are not. Psychology, History, and the worst of all, College Algebra. How can you teach a class called "College" Algebra in high school? Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge the school for offering such a course; in fact, most of the students who take tests and do well on other parts almost always perform poorly on the Math portion. So any extra help and guidance that they can receive beforehand is welcome. Also, since most schools even stop teaching Math after the junior year of high school, this class is welcome. But students do not (or will not) understand the difference between college and high school, especially if the classes are named the same thing. "I took this in high school, I don't have to take it again, do I? Why?"

Students slip through the cracks or play the system to get a decent grade by not being a constant problem in the classroom. Then they take that above average overall grade and start college. I've talked before about children who don't seem the least bit interested in college, but are either directed or even accompanied by their parents to register for classes. I know that parents do know more than the child and that they are trying to instill in the child the importance of education--for that, I applaud them. Many a time I've kicked myself for not taking college seriously enough right out of high school. But the parent cannot take the classes for the child (although with more and more Internet classes, the specter is raised) and what would it accomplish for that child to go to college, flunk out, then go home to that parent and say, "Now what?" This is when the parent challenges the system, instead of looking at the fact that perhaps, even if it is only for a short period of time, that their child is simply not ready for college.

Assessment tests, for better or worse, are the ways students indicate their readiness for school. Some schools have residual tests where the test is equivalent (for that school only) to the ACT. It may be shorter and even be free, but the student can take this test instead of signing up for the ACT or SAT and know their scores immediately after testing. Again, this is a way where the school gives the student the opportunity to succeed, or to fail. Another way schools do this is with a waiver. If a student is over 21 years of age, some schools allow that person to sign a waiver, if their scores are not high enough, to enroll in credited classes. This "out" is important not only to returning students who, with work and family pressures, cannot or will not take the time to start with developmental classes for which they would receive no credit. But, this notion of the waiver is fraught with danger. For one thing, it gives the student the idea that the test is merely a hoop to jump through, and no matter what scores they achieve on the test, they can sign the waiver. So they merely sit and push buttons or connect the dots until the test is over. Another thing is the age requirement. Many things in this country have age stipulations on them--driver's licenses at 16, voting at 18, drinking at 21. But sometimes there are ways around such things. One can drive at 15 and a half if a person has a licensed driver in the car. Parents can buy things for the child on their behalf such as vehicles, etc. So what has happened is that those students who don't do well on the residual test hear through the grapevine about the waiver. But the circumstances of the waiver, as happens in grapevines, get muddled. They hear they can just sign a waiver, so they do what some returning students do, plow through the test without paying attention because they believe they have an out. Or they hear that "someone" has to be 21 to sign the waiver. Enter the parent. The students are shocked (yes, shocked!) to hear that their parents cannot sign the waiver for them to bypass the test. Not only are they shocked, the parents are outraged that they cannot do this for their child. (Of course I'm exaggerating; this doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen enough that each semester we have to tell more than a few students and irate parents what the policy really is).

Sometimes I believe that returning students get it right. After high school, unless you (not your parents, not your friends who have always dreamed of going to a certain school, not your girl/boyfriend who wants you to go with them) are completely sure about what degree/profession you want to pursue, take a year or so off and work. Just work. Look around, even go to the school's Career Counseling Center. Anything but put yourself in a position to fail. Even if you are saying, "Yeah, but everyone has to do basics, so I'll take Comp, History, etc. at least until I decide what I want to do," remember that these grades will follow you for the rest of your life. Many students wish those classes had never happened when they were just out of high school because of those grades. Many students go to more than one school and are shocked (yes, shocked!) that they cannot just ignore those other schools and pretend those classes never happened when going to another university. College will be there. College is big business. It will not go away. But just because people can afford to go (or go in debt to go) does not mean that they are ready to tackle something vastly different than high school.

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posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 9:39 AM | 6 comments

At 10:49 AM, Blogger ET said...

Well, that was a diatribe. I think we can look to Rachel's post (See "Oddities Abound") of a couple days ago to see that, even in Texas where teachers make enough money to live (and have access to Sephora, and Tiffany & Co.) the nightmare of the classroom is enough to drive them away forever. A monastic calling, indeed. And an adult student who knows what they want to do? Who knew such a thing existed?

I absolutely agree with the "right to try, right to fail" policy as you well know. I practice it in my own (college) classroom. And on the rare occassion, there can even be room for a special circumstance. But on the whole, high school is failing these kids in any duty to prepare them for the real world, be it college or the work force. IEPs are partly to blame. Sure, they are mandated by the law. Sure, kids have the right to be taught at least through the high school levels. But what IEP is teaching a lot of these kids is if they create "lowered expectations" for themselves in the classroom, work will be reduced and the student will be coddled to whatever degree the school is willing to bend. Then this same kid shows up at college and wonders why s/he has to do ALL of the work. I don't foresee any employer saying "Oh, you're ADD...well sure, you just do 30% of your work and we will pay you the same wage everyone else receives." Yet this is the message sent by the IEP to a vast majority of students.

As for age requirements, I think the states who are moving the legal driving age closer to 18 have it right. As for the parents, they are going to be quite upset when we, as college instructors/professors, refuse to talk to them about their progeny because FERPA bars us from doing so. These parents need to try to instill some sense of responsibility into their child(ren) so mommy and daddy don't end up fighting all of their battles for them. I concede, however, that some children just cannot "hear" this until it is too late. We all have to learn from our own mistakes. And there is also a line which, when crossed, should require parent intervention. Such as when a school is allowing dangerous children who have been REMOVED from the school to continue to return and loiter about the school premises, posing a danger to other students. Or when teachers take a student outside of the classroom and that child "accidentally falls" and comes home with a black eye. This is where the lawsuit becomes a very necessary tool. If the school prohibits corporal punishment, parents expect the teachers (and I refer to high school here...colleges, as far as I know, do not deal with any type of corporal punishment issues) to abide by those same rules and not take matters into their own hands.

Let these kids stand on their own two feet, and let them fall and learn the hard lessons that create responsible adults. Those who want it, or deserve it, will work hard to get their education, at whatever cost necessary.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

ET, I think you might not understand why IEPs were created. Wait. No. You get the law behind it blah blah blah. What surprises me is this: generally children with IEPs (especially high school students) are not exactly children that would have college goals. That is, generally IEPs when you're in high school have to deal with mentally retardation/learning disabilities students rather than ADD. I'm certainly not saying the ADD IEPs doesn't exist, but I think it might be the exception to the exceptions rather than the norm. Do you two really see many step into your classrooms/counseling office?

Don't get me wrong, I would love to give teaching another try. But not in this system. The thought of what things might be like closer to my retirement time scares me beyond belief.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger LT said...

ET had extensive experience with IEPs, and when I worked with someone on an IHP (which is the one for mentally challenged indivuduals), I heard of many instances, when our committee was differentiating between the two, where parents pushed for their child to be on an IEP in order to "solve" their child's apparently mysterious inability to obtain decent grades in school. So they do happen. It may not be why they were INVENTED, but at least some IEPs are being used as outs for students, especially ADD students. Also, I think ET meant that these students are being taught that a portion of work is acceptable and if they do attend college, that this attitude is brought part and parcel with them. That friend of mine I talked about, who used the "opportunity to fail" line, speaks about the ADA and its attendant policy. It says that "accomodation within reason" should be made. That does not mean "dumbing down" coursework or giving people alternative criteria. The alternative comes from the administration of that criteria, not a change in the criteria for the class itself.

And yes, I do see many who, after testing, say, "well, in high school I didn't have to take tests like this. I had an IEP." So I refer them to the appropriate office after that.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger ET said...

Rachel, to answer your question: YES, I have had IEP students in my classroom. In fact, I had one in the fasttrack class who wanted accommodation based on a reading comprehension issue. HELLO! FASTTRACK! This is a fast-paced class with a full term workload, and with only seven class meetings there is no time for accommodation. These students are not supposed to get into fasttrack classes, but they do. The student ended up doing quite well, with no accommodation.

Certainly there are students who genuinely need an IEP. And I have many, many years of experience dealing with the IEP scenarios, meeting with teachers, psychologists, psychomestrists, principals, and various other school staff who really have no clue when it comes to children and education. THAT is scary. And what they are doing to IEP kids, on the whole, is teaching them that they don't have to do all the work. Or just not teaching them at all, given an overcrowded classroom and an inability or even unwillingness to take the time to help those who need the extra attention. And I speak from vast experience here, not just off the cuff.

What these kids don't understand -- and true, not all of them are college bound, but some want to try, is that these courses (at least the ones that I teach) are university transfer which means that my kids need to be taught on a level that will serve them when they transfer to a four year school, not on some sub-par level to accommodate an IEP. I don't dumb the class down, I expect the kids to come up to a specific level of critical thinking and analysis. Sometimes they drop, sometimes they end up working really hard at it and succeeding, but the bottom line is that they have to deal with the initial frustration of realizing that they will no longer have reduced requirements as per their IEP. The accommodations we can make are generally providing an in-class note taker or extended test times. Since most of my in-class work is verbal and instructions are given via handouts, and since English courses generally have no tests, there is little room for accommodation in this type of class setting.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Wow! I had NO clue that IEPs were also given on a college level (ADA stuff aside). I don't even know how to reply to that one. I thought you were speaking strictly of elementary/middle/high school students that HAD an IEP and then go to college and have a rude awakening.

At 6:57 PM, Blogger ET said...

That IS what I was saying. Students come to college who have been previously on IEP and expect that somehow their IEP will carry over into their college career and we will make special arrangements. The fact that the IEP does NOT carry over is the rude awakening. They have to do ALL of the work in my classes. Where they can get accommodation is through ADA and Special Services, as outlined above.


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