Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Lower Standards are Failing our Schools

Why lower standards are failing our schools.
Richard Pryor
Bryant and Stratton College
Human Relations

It is a commonly held belief that standardized tests are hamstringing today's educators by determining funding source payments to this narrow definition of success. I will submit to you that they are having a generational cascading effect on our youth. The cycle of diminishing returns, we are witnessing are a result of parents who were subjected to these lower standards and are now, less able to help their children with homework. An article in Science Week ("U.S. Parents Score Low on Math Help" 1991, p.218), stated that United States elementary school children were well below their counterparts in Japan and Taiwan. They point out that parents here our much less critical of their kid's math ability and are less likely to do the drills at home, needed for advancement on to applied mathematics. The article stated that a low number of fathers helped with math homework and that "siblings were often the main source of help." I believe our standards are lower today because we need to keep passing the children on to make room for successive classes and this assembly line approach is catching up with us. Our failure to offer a more customized curriculum, pinpoint the strengths of each student, and teach more to those strengths should really be another option instead of the cookie cutter style we are still using.
The textbook I use for this course (Lamberton & Minor 2010 p.91), went into some detail of terms coined by Psychologist Douglas McGregor Theory X and TheoryY defining them as two styles of management. Theory X states that only outside motivators such as more money will make a person work harder. Theory Y states that a person is motivated out of a feeling of well being and heightened self-esteem derived from success, which will afford them more responsibility. I would like to cite them in the context of how we expect children to learn these days. I have had the pleasure and simultaneous horror of helping my neighbors kids with their homework. This is when I first became aware of this current style of teaching. Students are having a truncated set of facts forced down their throats. They are, rewarded for parroting back the same facts with no chance for self-discovery. The impression I got was that time was of the essence and any deviation from this sequential fact stream was, not needed. My guess is that professional educators were, hindered by having to stick to a script that closely mirrors the standardized tests given by public schools on behalf of the Department of Education, who controls the purse strings. It seems, like that format provides no opportunity for them to take a different tact on an issue. The Theory Y style would allow them a certain amount of latitude to explore topics, which would bring the children and their teachers, more success. My citation is not simply to be critical of public school methods but to make larger point. That is, we need minds that are more creative in our changing society. In the Information Technology field, in which I am pursuing a degree, creativity and out of the box, thinking will win the day. If a child has an aptitude for computers do not waste his/her precious little time on the classes, which they might dread. Instead, allow them as much success wherever they might find it. This approach would forestall some dropouts and encourage individuality for the student as well as the educator.
One of the saddest discoveries I made on this research quest were the reasons given in a report (Department of Education, NCES 94-669 p.38), for dropping out of high school. Table 19 of this report was, as you might expect a government report to be, black and white, rows and columns of categories and numbers. I was able to look through the sterility and picture some of the faces of the former students reflected there. The typical, "became pregnant" was right up near the top, but so was "could not go to work and go to school at the same time." This dovetailed with "Had to support the family." This really solidifies my central point that under used minds of former students breed children who have to support parents and therefore under utilize their own minds and so on. Others were "Did not like school" and "could not keep up with schoolwork." If a talented future woodworker is not in a shop class but is bogged down in esoteric William Shakespeare Literature we need to ask if we are doing all we can to cultivate human capital or are we just creating another frustrated dropout? I have been working since I was fourteen years old, but not to feed my parents. One of the smallest groups represented was "had a drug and/or alcohol problem." It is worth mentioning that non-English speaking homes account for a large portion of dropouts but this forum could not do this topic justice. We do not give kids enough credit for wanting to learn and discover vital information about the world they live in. A world they will be responsible for maintaining for the next successive generation. The Theory Y credit we extend our kids today, trusting them to want to succeed because it boosts their self-esteem and feels good could be a worthwhile investment we all will benefit from in the future.
A section in (Lamberton & Minor 2010, p.137), detailed Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" theory where the very top of the Pyramid was called self-actualization, or a person reaching their full potential. I can imagine a world where even if a subset of people reached this point in my future career path technology would be, much more developed. The tax revenue would increase exponentially based simply on the productivity of all these high-functioning individuals. In this instance success, breeds more success the investments made in education would truly be an investment which would appreciate.
I do believe that those who are in control of the leavers of power do have the best of intentions for the students they are in charge of educating. This goes for the Department of Education all the way down to state and local government. The Department of Education has a daunting task trying to educate all of the young people in this wonderful nation of ours. One solution I would submit could involve scrapping the one-size fits all, cookie cutter approach. If possible a more customizable plan where they take the anxiety out of school and make it a mission for success stories. In a shocking series of articles in The Decatur Daily (Hughes, "Decatur is a Benchmark: Money, Parental Involvement Key in Dropout Battle", 2009), Mr. Hughes went through a long explanation, interviewing local superintendants, but the fact is Decatur, Alabama is spending three million dollars per year to battle dropouts. This is real money used in a law-enforcement type battle. This reminds me of a USA Insulation spot I heard on the radio. Their tag line was your going to pay for it whether you buy it or not. This money, can be spent on a diverse range of programs offered in a high school setting. If we test to see what the kids are good at and then teach them that, is that really such a novel concept. If they graduate less able to yell out the answers while watching Jeopardy, but able to make a livable wage and contribute back to society who paid to educate them in the first place I do not see the harm.

Department of Education. (1993). Dropout Rates in the United States: 1993(NCES 94-669) Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved February 16, 2010 from Ebscohost database.
Hughes, Bayne. (2009,December 17). Decatur is a Benchmark: Money, Parental Involvement key in Dropout Battle. The Decatur Daily no pages given. Retrieved February 16, 2010 from Ebscohost database.
Lamberton, L. H. & Minor, L. (2010). Human Relations Strategies for Success 4th Edition. NewYork: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
U. S. Parents Score low on Math Help. (1991, October 5). Science News, 140(14), p. 218

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