24 August 2008

“No Redo’s There”

In an interview on Fox News Channel, Dallas ISD board of trustees member Jerome Garza was questioned about the district’s new grading policy, one that has received a lot of negative attention in the past 10 days. Mr. Garza attempts to convince the viewer that the district’s policies regarding late work and re-tests are designed to lower the drop-out rate.

But an interesting insight is made during the closing of the interview. E.D. Hill, the interviewer, notes Mr. Garza’s K-12 education background. She states, “I know you had to do your homework. You graduated from one of the toughest boys' schools, Saint Mark's. You didn't get any slack there.”

Mr. Garza’s reply: “No, no. There were no redo's there. You had to pass it the first time or not.”

Now, I’m not saying that Dallas ISD can be turned into a constellation of St. Mark’s with the wave of a hand (or a grading policy), but it’s important to note how quickly and emphatically Mr. Garza made his reply. If one watches the video of the interview (at the link above), one will notice that his comment on St. Mark’s is made without hesitation or equivocation; it is simply the truth. St. Mark’s, “one of the toughest boys' schools” in the Dallas area, seems to have prepared Mr. Garza quite well for the real world.

So, why then the opposite policy for the students of Dallas ISD? I honestly can’t answer that question; I don’t know the ins and outs of the politics there. Perhaps it is because the powers that be are more focused on equality of outcome than equality of opportunity. Equal outcome can be quantitatively measured in graduation rates. The closer the number of graduates comes to the number of freshmen at intake, the greater the “success”. Equality of opportunity, in many ways, is largely qualitative. It defies metrics, it seems. And it scares educational technicians and managers (who crave numbers). But equality of opportunity and high levels of student accountability are the ways to raise standards. Pushing equality of outcome – a high school degree for all students – lowers the bar to the detriment of the student, and ultimately to the detriment of our society.

1 comment:

Bill Betzen said...

Bob, I am concerned about your statements: "Equal outcome can be quantitatively measured in graduation rates. The closer the number of graduates comes to the number of freshmen at intake, the greater the “success”."

Yes, Dallas ISD certainly has a crisis in this area. The Dallas ISD class of 2008 involved the handing out of a total of 6,102 diplomas to 6,102 students. These same students were in the 9th grade class for 2004-2005 which had an enrollment of 14,890 students. For the Class of 2008 59% of their 9th grade classmates were missing at graduation. For the class of 2007 it was 59.5% of the 9th grade class who were missing.

In every sense of the term Dallas ISD is failing.

However, once everyone gets a diploma, they are certainly not "equal."

I share intensely with you the concern about the lack of student motivation in Dallas ISD, and US schools in general.

I also had the joy of going to a St. Marks type school where we were pushed and had to perform. It was certainly 4 of the most positive, productive years of my life. No time to goof off, but I have benefited ever since.

I'm now a Dallas ISD Computer Applications teacher working in the 4th year of a dropout prevention and student motivation project that costs only $2/student and has secured a 25% reduction in dropout rates for our 8th graders at Quintanilla Middle School.

It is a 10-year time-capsule and class reunion program that helps students focus onto their own futures. They write letters to themselves in the last weeks of 8th grade in Language Arts classes. They are sealed by the students into self-addressed envelopes which the students hold as they pose with their Language Arts class standing in front of the 350-pound vault bolted to the floor in our middle school lobby. After the photo they each place their letter onto the shelf for their class, one of 10 shelves inside the vault.

They know it will stay there until their 10-year class reunion when they return to celebrate and reclaim the letter. They know they will also be asked to speak with the then current 8th grade class about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions such as 'Would you do anything differently if you were 13 again?'

With such a focus on the future our students are staying in school in much greater numbers. They are motivated by their own personal goals, not by a project needing thousands of tax dollars! This is real life!

We must no longer mis-lead ourselves as to the severity of the crisis our Dallas ISD students face. See www.studentmotivation.org for more details as to the School Archive Project as one solution. If donors can be located for the 350-pound vaults that are bolted to the floors in the school lobbys to function as the time-capsules, and for the $2/student expenses for running the project, it will help these School Archive Projects get started.

School Archive Projects are a low-budget solution to a monumental crisis Dallas ISD has been facing for years.