Teaching students to be slackers

Students are learning to be slackers, writes Aaron Hanscom at Pajamas Media. Take the rules adopted in Dallas.

* Homework grades should be given only when the grades will “raise a student’s average, not lower it.”
* Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade.
* Teachers cannot give a zero on an assignment unless they call parents and make “efforts to assist students in completing the work.”
* Teachers must accept overdue assignments.
* High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent of their students will need to develop a professional improvement plan and will be monitored by their principals.

Limiting teachers’ authority, encouraging procrastination and pressuring teachers to lower standards will not help students succeed in high school, he predicts.

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Comments

  1. He predicts that, does he? Does he also predict the sun will rise in the east? Of *course* it won’t help students succeed. These rules are not just foolish, but dangerous. Glad I don’t teach there.

  2. Of course he is right! That is a no-brainer. Further to what he says, the negative consequences of such blatantly idiotic suggestions will not be limited to school.

  3. I think what’s going on with these goofy policies is an effort to raise the graduation rate. If you figure out a way just to get everyone to pass every class, then many more of them will all graduate in four years and it won’t look as bad in your school data.

    One way to do that would be to make sure kids actually learned; another way that’s a hell of a lot easier, for administrators especially, is just make it near impossible for a teacher to do anything that will result in the student earning a low grade.

    We see these kinds of policies creeping in at my school and I always wonder what the public would think if they knew. Don’t people want students to actually be competent when they graduate or at least for schools to use policies that would come closer to delivering that?

  4. …Don’t people want students to actually be competent when they graduate [?]

    Yes.

    But people also don’t want to see 20% of high school seniors not graduate.

    The schools may be between a rock and a hard place on this one, depending on the students (and the quality of education, and the curriculum selected, etc.). If students aren’t doing the work and aren’t showing up, *I’m* fine with them not graduating. But a school that has enough of these kids and then doesn’t graduate them is a “failing school.”

    So, what to do? Don’t just say, “fail them,” because this may cost the principal his/her job. I don’t expect people to take actions that will cost them their job. Don’t just say, “teach them better.” The kids may not even be trying (of course, the policy we are getting probably won’t make them try harder …).

    So … if the kids don’t care, but the school takes the rap for them not graduating, what do we do?

    -Mark Roulo

  5. I don’t like the rules either, but they’re not really learning to be slackers (they still have to do the work) — they’re just not learning self-discipline.

  6. …but they’re not really learning to be slackers…

    These kids are being conditioned to think that showing up is all that matters. Don’t have to learn the material, don’t have to do the work, just show up. If that’s not learning to be a slacker, I’m not sure what is.

  7. Seems to me that it is focusing grades on what kids know, with an emphasis on seeing that they get as much opportunity as possible to learn, as opposed to using grades as a reward for all kinds of conforming behaviors (I can hear the jeers now). The tension between grades for hard work vs grades for knowing something is nothing new. It wasn’t resolved when I was back in ed school and it doesn’t appear to be now.

  8. Welcome to the world of dumbing down and no personal responsibility. I have had so many arguments with public school educators who do not want to give grades below a 50 or whatever. Geez…welcome to the real world — do the work and earn the credit. No wonder the US is in such sad shape — our public education has succeeded in its mission —

    from a former 14 year public school parent who finally saw the light and moved to private school where the kids are held personally accountable for their choices — and the consequences of same!!

  9. I guess I just don’t see how Dallas’ proposal is about what kids know instead of how hard they work. If it were really about what kids know and keeping them challenged, it’d be a radically different plan in which students would have to demonstrate mastery of the content before getting a good grade. Maybe I’m wrong, but putting teachers who fail more than 20% of their class on professional development plans says only one thing to me: It doesn’t matter what your students do or don’t do, what they know or don’t know, they WILL pass in the name of self-esteem.

  10. Amy in Texas says:

    Another factor in this situation is that Texas had adopted the 4×4- new graduation requirements that are much more demanding than what I took in high school (20 years ago). Physics for everyone, four years of math…mix in the number of ELLs and you get the current situation at DISD.
    One positive outcome is the number of charters that are opening all over town- my son has been at one for three years. Makes me wonder if Dallas has a more dynamic charter culture than other states?

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    The lunacy continues. And the education establishment continues to be perplexed that more and more parents are opting for vouchers where they can, charter schools where they can, and private schools whenever they can afford it.

    Bill

  12. From the top…
    1) “Homework grades…” Why grade or even assign homework? A grade is a relative ranking. Since the teacher never knows who does homework, the grade might well not reflect the student’s work. I was a Math teacher. Maybe it’s different for History teachers or Biology teachers. If you work out for one hour a day, five days a week, you’ll get fit. 50 minutes a day of Math, five days a week is pleanty, if students and teachers do not waste it.
    2) “Students who flunk tests can retake the exam and keep the higher grade.” Do artists keep a portfolio of their junk? Why not let students edit their transcripts? Grades give teachers power over students.

    “Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.” –Albert Einstein–, Ideas And Opinions, p. 61, (Three Rivers Press).

    3) “Teachers cannot give a zero…”
    I’ll agree this is dippy.
    4) “Teachers must accept overdue assignments.”
    And this is dippy.
    5) “High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent…”
    My record was over 75%. Schools baby students along until they run into a teacher who refuses to lie about the system’s accomplishments. It’s neither the teacher’s nor the students’ fault. You ever notice that 24 Hour Fitness never fails members?
    6) “Limiting teachers’ authority, encouraging procrastination and pressuring teachers to lower standards will not help students succeed in high school, he predicts.”

    Yes and no. It is a conflict of interest for a teacher to grade her own students. Punitive gradng does not make for enthusiastic students of risk takers.

    It seems to me that people are rightly frustrated with the system’s failure to educate and want to punish someone.

  13. I agree that some of the rules are silly and probably not useful. And I agree that a teacher who, during a given semester or year, fails 20% of his/her students probably shouldn’t go on a professional development plan. But I would monitor that teacher very closely and if it becomes a pattern, then maybe the teacher needs help. It’s his/her job to make sure that those students master the class material and if, year after year, that’s not happening, some action needs to be taken. We can’t blame it all on the students.

  14. Things will never change until competition is injected into the choosing of where one’s child goes to school. Parents, repeat over and over: My tax money follows my child to the school that I choose for him to attend. Teachers, before you protest: if such a change comes to pass, your working environment will also improve because you, too, will have the choice of finding a school with which you are compatible.

  15. And I agree that a teacher who, during a given semester or year, fails 20% of his/her students probably shouldn’t go on a professional development plan. But I would monitor that teacher very closely and if it becomes a pattern, then maybe the teacher needs help. It’s his/her job to make sure that those students master the class material and if, year after year, that’s not happening, some action needs to be taken. We can’t blame it all on the students.

    If a ninth grade teacher is failing more than 20% of his or her students on a regular basis, odds are it is NOT a deficiency with the teacher. Addressing ninth grade failures by removing signs of failure is a total misunderstanding of the problem. I’ve not heard anyone ask whether these kids are prepared for ninth grade material in ninth grade. Hinojosa and the other folks at Dallas ISD are implementing their plan with no examination of the lower grades.

    Seriously, what happened to progressives and their obsession with “root causes”?

  16. It strikes me that “addressing” failures by not allowing teachers to hold students accountable is kind of like putting make-up over that funny looking mole instead of going to the dermatologist and having it tested for skin cancer.

  17. It’s all about graduation rates and state testing results. The kids in my district come to 9th grade reading at an average 5th grade level. Our principal has instituted the same policies as Dallas and gives kids new binders, paper, dividers, and writing utensils at the beginning of each year. He holds brown pride cheer sessions in the gym. Teachers that fail too many kids hear about it, and it’s not pleasant. In the end, it’s also about how good he’s going to look on graduation day and when state testing results are published.

  18. BB: Sounds like a horrible misuse of public education money to expect kids to learn and graduate. Just awful.

  19. BB: Sounds like a horrible misuse of public education money to expect kids to learn and graduate. Just awful.

    It is a horrible misuse of public school money to institute policies that are designed to get attendance dollars and push kids out the door with a shiny new diploma on schedule. Dallas ISD is a K-12 district, yet they’re not examining why so many kids come into ninth grade utterly unprepared to succeed. Put simply, this plan and the rules behind it are not, and have never been, about learning.

  20. What dire consequences do you imagine would ensue if we let students challenge courses by exam as many times as they liked and kept the higher grade? Why suppose schools would be any worse off if teachers never graded their own students? Seems to me the teacher is in a serious conflict of interest when she grades her own students. Relations between teachers and students would improve enormously if outsiders graded students and teachers functioned as coaches, helping students over the hurdles these outsiders erect.

    Karl Popper observed that teachers are often “dictators in pocket edition”. Grading degrades the teacher’s function. This doesn’t matter to the control freaks who enter the profession for the opportunity to dominate 20 kids.

  21. another anon says:

    @anon, who says “My tax money follows my child to the school that I choose for him to attend.”:

    By “my tax money” do you mean the school taxes that your family, personally, has paid into the system? Or do you mean the much larger amount that your child is consuming from the system, i.e. from “the government” (that is, all of us collectively)?

    If the former, then seeing as I have no children, do I get to choose a poor child on whom to bestow my annual $3000 largess?

  22. What dire consequences do you imagine would ensue if we let students challenge courses by exam as many times as they liked and kept the higher grade?

    None, actually. If it were just that students could challenge a course at any time, and as many times as needed, I’d be all for it. THAT would be about learning.

    The policies, however, when taken as a whole are not about learning.

  23. Another anon said, “If the former, then seeing as I have no children, do I get to choose a poor child on whom to bestow my annual $3000 largess?”

    Yes, I mean the former. My school taxes that I personally pay follow my child to the school of my choice. And, yes, you may choose a poor child on whom to bestow your largess. And, so can I if I choose to do so.

  24. M/M: They’re not learning and graduating. They’re just graduating.

  25. Malcolm Kirkpatrick brings up the idea that it is a conflict of interest for a teacher to grade the same students he teaches. I think this idea deserves a lot more thought. I see the rationale. One would think that an algebra course is an algebra course and it should be no problem for one person to teach the course and the other person to grade the students. And one would think that a psychology course is a psychology course and again one person can teach it and another person can grade the students. It seems reasonable, but I’m not convinced it works very well.

    My thoughts about this issue started many years ago, with an incident that has stuck in my memory. I had just taken a course, psychology as I remember, and a few days after the final was over I noticed that another psychology teacher, not the one who taught my course, had posted his/her final exam on a bulletin board for the benefit of his/her students. What really impressed me was that I didn’t think I could pass that exam. I read question after question and wasn’t sure of the answers. But I had just finished the course. Shouldn’t I know the material? What’s going on here?

    My conclusion is something like this. Teacher A may teach a good course, and teacher B may teach an equally good course, but the courses will still be substantially different. These differences can be of content, but also of style, emphasis, orientation, perspective, . . . . . who knows what. Because of these differences, whether intentional or not, if Teacher B tries to grade the students of Teacher A, or vice versa, the assessment will be faulty in various ways, and probably seem very unfair and frustrating to the students.

    But why not establish agreed-upon standards ahead of time? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? I’m not sure. NCLB has tried to something like that, and has produced a lot of frustration. My suspicion is that it’s a lot harder to do that it seems.

    These thoughts are related to the Dallas rule that “High school teachers who fail more than 20 percent of their students will need to develop a professional improvement plan and will be monitored by their principals.” That really gives me the willies. I don’t mean to disparage principals, but I think it’s fair to say that few of them are, or would pretend to be, educational leaders. I don’t think that’s their job. Hopefully many of them would be good teachers in their own right, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to micromanage the teaching of others. I can well imagine that a “professional improvement plan” would be just an added burden on a teacher who is troubled and overburdened already. The principal would give “suggestions”, and the teacher, unless he is a high stakes gambler, would treat those suggestions as commandments. But the result, I would suspect, would be like Teacher A trying to import a part of Teacher B’s course into his course. It might work well, but it also might be a bad fit. If Teacher B is the principal and Teacher A is on probation, the importation will take place, for better or worse.

    Of course I am just imagining. Others may imagine things quite differently. But I think it’s important to think about these things. I’m pretty cynical about a lot of things. The ideas of standards and accountability have a lot of appeal, and strongly appealed to me when NCLB was new. But my thinking now is there are many unintended consequences. Just giving a teacher a classroom and materials and leaving them to their devices and good judgment may seem a little primitive in today’s world, but I’m not sure we’ve developed anything better yet. I’m not saying we shouldn’t weed out bad teachers, just that there are no obvious and easy answers for the improvement of teaching.

  26. The higher the graduation rate, the better the school looks in my state’s eyes. We teachers were pressured to pass students who were close to graduation: “Or you will answer to me!” said our principal. Even if the student didn’t bother to show up for class. They kept touting “We’re raising standards around here”, but in my opinion, it was just all for show. My book, NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND? THE TRUE STORY OF A TEACHER’S QUEST by Elizabeth Blake (Amazon.com) details how I tried to raise standards for my students but was thwarted every time I turned around. I’m a certified chemistry teacher. They pulled me out of my chemistry course halfway through and transferred me (with just overnight warning) an hour away to a reservation to teach 7th grade science. Etc.Etc.Etc. Society needs to know what’s happening in our schools and support their teachers.

  27. Elizabeth:

    By the same token, are you willing to consider the true stories of some of the parents in your district. While you have the experience of your classroom and your students, parents have a different and equally valid point of view to consider. In my district a certified chemistry teacher couldn’t be transferred in the way that you describe, there would be lots of hoops that the district would have to go through in filling that position in order to fulfill the teacher’s contract. I would add that the seventh graders on the reservation have an exceptionally well qualified science teacher. In my state, many seventh graders have teachers with k-8 qualifications (with some add-on workshops in the content area to become HQT). In my local district an immersion school was forced to accept a teacher who could not speak the immersion language because that teacher was next in line, according to the contract, to be called back. The union upheld (actually demanded) this with a straight face.

    This is the kind of thwarting that is fomented and supported by teachers. Brian introduces the notion that one might expect algebra content to be somewhat universal. Not so. You may have read of the recent collaboration of several states to set a common standard for Algebra II so that they could use a common exam. Prior to this, there was no common set of learning that could be identified as Algebra II. Until very recently in my district it was solely at the teacher’s discretion. It took an outside curriculum audit to point out that there is a difference between a district curriculum and a list of required textbooks. This finding did not get the immediate attention that required reporting under NCLB has gotten. Now some folks have whipped together district pacing guides, that I am supposing are based on a notion of “curriculum,” although I am not entirely certain that “curriculum” is an intervening step between the state standards and the pacing guides. I would also add that teachers are almost universally negative about the presence of the pacing guides, and particularly the notion of assessing kids on their progress (again–I cite the union on this one).

    I may someday write a book, like yours, simply because I don’t know if anyone has any notion of what goes on inside a school from the point of view of a parent. I have consistently pushed for science, social studies, art and music–because my kid needs these things. I have lost, year after year, the battle for my kid with disabilities to be seen as a student first and a set of disabilities second. Yet even in the context of special education, he is viewed as a square peg. Have I ever gotten the sense that standards for his education were high? No. Or that it was important that he learn and ultimately graduate? No.

    I have frequently had the sense that it was very important to develop rules, lots of rules, that would allow for his (and others like him, both disabled and non-disabled) exclusion–either down the hall or out of the building. I have been hearing since earliest elementary grades that it was important that he take home, complete and hand in homework (with a failing grade when it didn’t show up), and to do so without any organizational assistance, reminders, or consideration for whether or not he had any of the abilities required to do so, because, “we want him to learn to take responsibility.” I have often challenged this with the suggestion that learning to take responsibility be included as an IEP goal, with services to support it. Never happened. What happened instead is the same litany of horrors that I have hear from other parents–the envelope with 9 weeks assignments to finish (that is do the whole thing) at home; the years that all students were expected to take homework back and forth without bookbags or notebooks, which were against the rules (might conceal weapons, or be used as weapons); all the assignments that did not provide the accommodations specified in the IEP; and lots and lots of complete assignments never turned in, lots of low grades based on homework never turned in–and on and on.

    Elizabeth–since I addressed this to you–I trust that you do want to uphold high standards of learning, and hope you get the support to do so. But please, take a walk around and look at the other side of the elephant. There are a lot of parents working just as hard, and feeling just as little support.

  28. Elizabeth Blake wrote:

    The higher the graduation rate, the better the school looks in my state’s eyes.

    Since the professionals are being measured by the graduation rate is it any wonder that they’re responding to that pressure? If you want kids to graduate with an education then that’s what the pressure has got to be.

    The administrators who set this policy are simply responding to the pressure on them. That they’re willing to do what’s widely perceived as cutting corners to achieve the desired result as expressed by state regulation is entirely predictable. Not admirable but predictable.

    The problem then is with the goals laid out for the system/professionals. If you don’t measure education and you do measure graduation rate then lots of ill-educated graduates is what you’ll get and you ought to save your shock and dismay for unexpected calamities. It’s more appropriately displayed under that condition.

  29. The concern for the graduation rate has been laid atop the concern for academic achievement. When I was teaching GED classes–before NCLB–we got lots of “referrals” from the public school system. Counselors would respond to kids who had academic difficulties by telling them that it would be easier to just drop out and get a GED. Never mind that the GED was designed to grant a credential to upper level secondary students who dropped out due to life circumstances (the military or pregnancy being the leading ones, or various other family deficiencies), but had basically had a solid, though incomplete school experience. We were “teaching” from self-study texts that relied on an assumption of solid, though incomplete, prior school experience, and and ability to engage in independent study. Our classes offered a bare minimum of the hours provided by the district. I was certified in only one of the subjects that I was “teaching.”

    But this is what happened when the state measured education, but not graduation. Now they are measuring both. I would imagine that there will be some fumbling around until someone figures out how to reach those kids that have been overlooked in the past.

  30. Oh, you’re absolutely right. I taught at-risk students, the homeless, students raised by grandparents, absent parents, parents who don’t speak English and put their faith and trust completely in our system. Believe me, I was totally on their side. Unfortunately, our administration wasn’t. I had to battle one principal who EXPELLED my favorite student simply because he said, “Aah, that’s gay.” Another principal screamed at a parent because he had tattooes with no shirt on when he came to pick up his son. He also told me, “Don’t bother with these knuckleheads. They’re not going anywhere anyway.” My book is loaded with incidents like this.
    One reviewer says this: JoAnn V. Cleland, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Reading Education, Arizona State University at the West Campus
    “In No Child Left Behind? The True Story of a Teacher’s Quest, Ms. Blake tells of her decision to leave a well-established career and take on an incredible challenge – teaching in a school for at-risk students. She is appalled at the lack of support from some administrators, but encouraged by the shared commitment of other colleagues. She is moved by the needs of students headed toward failure, losing some but saving others. This is a compelling message about one woman’s vision, that no child be left behind.”
    I loved my job and I loved my students. But the stress of shootings, murdered students, abusive principals, drugs, gangs, a riot, etc., became too much for me and I left teaching. That’s why I wrote my book, so these parents and students (and teachers!) can be helped.

  31. Margo/Mom,
    I say in all sincerity that you should write a book from the parents’ POV! I have already learned much from you. You have an excellent style of expression and much to say. Society needs people like you to enlighten them.
    I hope things go well for you with your children.