Saturday, May 01, 2010

Why Johnny Can't Do Math: Neither Can the Schools

If you missed our interview on April 23rd with Bob Bowden, whose film, "The Cartel," just closed this weekend at the Angelika Theater, then you may not be as incensed as we are over a story recently in the Houston Chronicle (buried below the fold, on the front page of the combined Business/City & State section), about 11 Texas school districts seeking to continue giving a break to students who badly fail courses, despite a new law mandating truthful grading.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott (correctly) has interpreted the law to mean exactly what it says: What you see is what you got on your grade. You flunked the course, you get an F. You want to pass, take it again...and study harder.

The districts — most are in the Houston area — are suing to keep their policies that set minimum failing grades — typically a 50 — even if students deserved lower.

According to the story in The Chronicle this morning, the districts argue that the statute "applies only to class assignments, not to semester or six- or nine-week grades on report cards." However, the author of the bill, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, says it was intended it to cover all types of grades.

Who's asking for a break to give a break to flunking students? The Fort Bend, Aldine, Klein, Alief, Anahuac and Clear Creek filed the lawsuit in November, with Humble, Deer Park, Eanes, Dickinson and Livingston joining later. 

The hearing today is to seek a temporary injunction to keep from having their minimum grading policies--translated: raising the lowest common denominator--voided by the courts.

Why do school districts care about a minimum-grading policy? Why wouldn't a school district want a real grade reflected on a report card?? The M-G-P's are the schools' strategy to prevent dropouts because they give students a mathematical shot at passing a course — if they earn high enough marks in other grading periods. That's assuming they can pass the math course necessary to understanding this twist of logic.

Here's your word problem for the day: If a student who received a 30 in a course in the first six weeks managed to pass the next five grading periods with 75's, would he pass or fail? If you use real world math, the kid would fail the course with a 68. But if the school gave the student a 50, instead of a 30, the cumulative grade would be passing.

Does that make you feel better about the product high schools would churn out, knowing the failure rates are softer than they appear? 

Here's how Alief School Board member Sarah Winkler explains the logic in The Chronicle'sstory: “We're not giving passing grades. A 50 is way below failing.” 
True enough. 
“All we're doing is giving them a grade that if they put forth significant effort they would be able to pass. What would be the point of a student making any effort if they cannot pass?,” she opines.

How about this, Sarah--under that logic, a kid can just fail to produce any work and receive a 50 for the course. Still failing--and failing to work at all.

I think we're going about this from the wrong end of the pipeline: How about rewarding kids with what they earn, not what you're comfortable in reflecting as the school district's ultimate failure to teach.

1 comment:

Emily Nghiem said...
True, accountability must be taught by example, or else younger generations lose respect for authority. I live in a neighborhood where HISD bullied a volunteer youth program out of their center by eviction and eminent domain, seized the property and demolished it. And you wonder why they lack authority to stop bullying in schools. Teachers and Police need full support to uphold consistent standards of civics in all institutions and communities. Teaching common respect and shared responsibility for civil laws and conduct would help prevent crime, corruption, and abuse of force. By reducing the cost of crime and prisons, more money can be saved to pay for education and health care to break the cycle of poverty and waste, and promote accountability for our tax dollars.