12 May 2008

More Waiting to Learn

While doing some research, I found much the same story reported in Massachusetts as I did in a report on Dallas area high school graduates. According to the Boston Globe:

Thousands of Massachusetts public high school graduates arrive at college unprepared for even the most basic math and English classes, forcing them to take remedial courses that discourage many from staying in school.

"This is a statewide problem," said Linda M. Noonan, managing director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a nonprofit group that supports tougher educational standards to create a better workforce. "There's something systemic that we're not doing to get these kids ready to do college-level work."

It seems to me that so many stories covering students’ inability to perform fundamental math, reading, and writing would beg for some change to the system. Alas, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. What follows is simply platitudes from authority.

"We're hopeful high schools will regard this very seriously," said Paul Reville, chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who will take over as the state's education secretary in July. "This tells us that higher standards are necessary. We're not fully preparing students for non-remediated college work."
I’m very curious what higher standards would mean to a test-addicted, metrics-driven education bureaucracy. Perhaps there is a need for pre-remediation during a student’s senior year of high school? Maybe “universal community college remediation” is required so that there is an equal playing field for all students regardless of previous effort along the 13-year road to high school graduation.

Or perhaps there is a need, a deep need, to force parents and students, administrators and teachers (roughly in that order) to recognize and accept that formative learning requires rote memorization of fundamentals, continual practice of those fundamentals, and an expectation that all students – regardless of race, class, etc. – must be held accountable for such information.

Ironically, US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was quoted on WebWire on the 9th of May as saying, “Massachusetts is a champion of accountability and has some of the nation’s highest standards.” If the result of such “high standards” is surpassingly high rates of remediation for those who choose to continue to college, then there is a problem with those supposedly high standards.

If students are allowed to wait to master these fundamental operations of math and English, until after high school, then one may ask what the point of compulsory public education is. Fixing the problem of underperforming – indeed undereducated – students seems to have very little to do with some bureaucracy pushing higher standards. However, empty words pushing those elusive high standards seem to be all that are up for offer to pull compulsory education out of its tail-spin.

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