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Education Reformation:Grades

If you are stopping by my blog in search of my Education Reformation series, you are going to want to start with my first post.  This series has three parts, this being the third.  Here are the links to the first two entries.

Part 1: Education Reformation:Rewards

Part 2: Education Reformation:My Beef

As I foreshadowed in Part 2, this third entry discusses school funds.  I do believe, however, that I am guilty of lying by insinuation.  If my last post led you to believe that I would reveal how I would magically wave my wand and make greenbacks appear in Uncle Sam’s generous hand…I apologize.  That is not what this entry is about.  In my defense, however, I did admit that post #2 was written on a complete caffeine binge…  But the truth is, I am not a financial guru.  I do not have a mind for numbers, therefore I have no authority to tell our government how to improve the sorry state our finances are in. 

The part of our finances I am going to talk about is the incorrect way they are distributed.  This can be explained best with a true story.  I have been wanting to write my thoughts on education for a long time, but it was this story that finally convinced me to write this series for you.  Last week I found out some heartbreaking news.  I have a very dear friend who will be in 8th grade this year.  She recently transferred schools due to a family move.  My friend has some learning disabilities, so the special education department at her new school (which was a smaller, more rural school compared to her previous one) tested her in various areas.  Her parents were heartbroken to learn that she was significantly behind in her education.  They were also surprised, having had no idea there was this big of a problem.  There was a scuffle of research and contacting the former big city school to try find answers to what had happened and why my friend was so many years behind.  The truth eventually came out.  My friend’s former teachers knew she wasn’t understanding the lessons they taught.  But if they had held her back, it would have appeared that they were not doing their job since, according to test scores, she wasn’t learning.  If the special education department put out a progress report with students showing little to no improvement, they would be denied government funds.  Therefore, my friend’s teachers kept passing her so it appeared that she was learning and keeping up with her class.  Am I the only one who hears stories like this and then begins to see red?

This is where I diverge from money.  I don’t know how to make funds appear that aren’t there, but I do know a better way to distribute them.  Kind of.  Maybe I should say, I know how not to distribute them.  You should not be letting test scores dictate money.  You should not be having test scores dictate anything.  That is what I want to discuss for my third point: test scores.

I don’t believe in what is called “teaching to the test.”  That is when teacher’s have their test written out and the information they teach you is based on what you need to know to pass the test.  As a student, I loved this method because it guaranteed that if you paid attention, you’d get good grades.  But it doesn’t guarantee that you learn.  After countless years of taking math (even getting a private tutor for it), I still struggle balancing my checkbook each month, never quite getting the numbers to jive.  After taking a High School class on Environmental Science and passing with  flying colors, I realized just yesterday that I can’t remember the purpose of our local watershed board. After memorizing every single amendment to our Constitution for my college government class, the only amendments which I can give the correct number to with 100% certainty would be the first and second amendment–and I knew those before I took that class.  Those are all examples of times I memorized and learned “to the test.”

Compare that with my English studies.  The only time I have ever memorized anything for an English class was when I memorized terms or word definitions.  Most of those I have forgotten.  Other than that, I never really studied for English tests.  I LOVE English and it is something I have spent several years inundating myself in. I read a wide variety of literature, I attend writing workshops, I discuss writing and English studies with people, and most importantly, as a writer I put what I learn in English class to practice. So, how does that work when it comes to tests?  Well, sometimes it means I get a wrong answer, because I just don’t recognize the questions.  But many times its an exciting way to find out what my brain has absorbed over time.  Example: If my High School English class had a question asking the name for the Ancient Egyptian goddess of night, I may not remember.  After all, there are a lot of names in mythology.  But my brain could also go through the knowledge process.  I could recall one of my favorite books that was set in ancient Egypt.  Then I’d bring up certain scenes in the book that had included mythological creatures.  By remembering the dialogue in the book it would trigger my brain, telling me that the goddess of night was named Nuit.  And there you have it.  In a perfect education system, you wouldn’t have the inundated lifestyle that I have in English, but that is still the process your brain should be going through, because your teachers should have exposed you to the stories and fascination of each study in a very real, practical and applicable way.

Memorization isn’t knowledge.  There are scores of Straight-A idiots in our classrooms.  And they are getting rewarded for being such.  Who do we give scholarships to?  Who gets the assortments of privileges various schools hand out as rewards?  Who becomes teacher’s pets and is shown favoritism?  Who is given job recommendations by staff?  Is it not the straight-A kids?

Here is my belief: grades are not important; improvement is.  Teachers, consider this: when you put together your tests, does the score of the student at the top of the class really matter to you?  I mean if a girl who’s always gotten an “A” on her tests, gets another “A” in your class…you didn’t accomplish much, did you?  But if a struggling student who is failing returns a test to you with a “D” or maybe even a low “C”…REJOICE!  That is cause for celebration.  Somehow you were able to get into that students’ head one or two pieces of vital information.  Had that kid given you an “A” paper, chances are he or she either cheated or memorized to get the answers.  But with a slight improvement such as that, you know that something must have clicked.  That kid is smarter than he or she was two weeks ago.  And that is what teaching is all about.   

A look into the future?

To wrap up my series, let me give you my idea of a “perfect” education system.  These are all the “minor” changes I didn’t feel the need to spend a whole post blogging about.

  • Because students are all individuals, they all learn at individual levels and individual paces.  So they shouldn’t be clumped together in grades.  Learning (not memorizing) should be on an individual basis.  I am a big fan of the old-fashioned one-room school house: students of all ages clumped together, learning patience while the teacher helped others, learning how to socialize and befriend kids of different ages, helping others when possible and being allowed to graduate early if they move ahead in their studies or later if they took their time. 
  • School funding and student progress mandates should be the job of the local government, not subject to the whims of big government.   Lazy politicians in Washington D.C. who make money with their poor work ethic, skipping meetings and debates to go fishing and showing up only in time to vote, have no business telling our kids (who they have never met) what programs do and do not deserve funds. 
  • Teachers have the ultimate authority over their own class schedules.  If an elementry teacher from North Dakota has a Monday class on the first nice, blizzard-free day in they have seen in weeks, she has the right to take her class to the park to play, burn off some energy and just have a good time.  Life-lessons learned on days like that are just as important as 2+2. 
  • High School schedules should not be periods of continual back-to-back classes, but relaxed with plenty of time in between.  Healthy snacks should be provided for them.  Why does snack time end after elementary school?  Healthy snacks are important to a healthy diet.
  • In High School, English, Geography and Social Studies should be taught together as a combined effort of the teachers.  (i.e. When you are reading The Scarlett Letter in English, you should be studying early American settlement  and the Salem witch trials in Social Studies and you should be studying the layout of what was America at that time in Geography.  What colonies were being settled?  How far apart were they?  What was the land like then? etc.)
  • Algebra should be taken only when an upper classman in High School and you don’t need more than Algebra I (all other Algebra can be covered in college if it is needed for your major.)   Other years in High School should be spent on practical math: balancing a checkbook, counting back change, adding/subtracting time, etc.  Most schools cover this when kids are young, maybe middle school, but the skills are forgotten by the time the kids enter the job field.
  • 4 day school weeks.  Kids need to be kids.  They need to learn by living.  Don’t keep their childhood boxed inside four school walls all week.
  • Extracurricular activities should have limits.  A limit in age as well as the number of activities you can be in.  I watched too many people show up at High School 2 hours before the day started to run and do their practice for athletics because after school, during normal practice hours, they had practice for whatever form of the Arts that they were in.  That normally lasted till after supper, when the student would go home, do homework, study for tests, go to sleep and then get up in the wee hours of the morning and do it all over again, 5 days a week.  And that’s if they didn’t have part time jobs they were trying to swing, as well.  That’s very detrimental to a person’s health.  Adults don’t swing that kind of schedule, why are we expecting kids to?
  • We need to encourage professors and advisors at teachers’ colleges to be bold and critical.  If they see a student trying to achieve a teacher’s license who they don’t believe is very qualified to work with children, they need to encourage that student to pursue areas where the student’s knowledge could be better used.  They can’t force anything and ultimately it would be the students’ decision, but we all need those outside eyes giving us feedback.  This could also help reduce the number of teachers who are raping their students because those potential “teachers” wouldn’t be in the business. 

Whew!  This ends my education series.  I apologize for the length!  🙂  Writing these posts has been a huge stretcher for me, but wow does it feel good to have it accomplished!  My goal is to someday put these essays (and more) together in a nonfiction book about Education Reformation that I would collaborate on with teachers, politicians and other people “in the know” who could share their stories.  So maybe you’ll see them again someday!

Our kids are worth educating and our education is worth reforming!

Emily Grace


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