Eduwonk links to Education Trust slides of seventh-grade writing assignments at two California middle schools. One asks students to analyze Anne Frank’s character; the other asks students to write about “my best friend” or “a chore I hate.” The expectations gap is huge, he writes.
Raising expectations doesn’t work unless other things happen too, writes commenter John Thompson, a high school teacher in Oklahoma City.
To turn things around, it would take an honest discussion of what it takes to raise student performance when neighborhood secondary students have skills that are five years or so below their neighbors who went to magnet schools. But our district leaders had the the same visceral response as you seem to be having, and mandated immediate and much much higher standards. Instantly, many core teachers were intimidated into teaching five years above the students reading level, and failure rates soared to 95% in some. The dropout rate exploded and the district immediately abandoned the experiment.
Look at what’s being taught, adds Core Knowledge.
You can’t feed kids a thin gruel of content-free, “self-directed” reading and writing for their entire academic career and then expect them to suddenly be able to write a nuanced character study of Anne Frank in the 7th grade. You can’t ask kids to do “self-directed” writing about their family, their friends and their personal experiences throughout elementary school to the exclusion of nearly all else, then expect them to dazzle you with their insights into literature in middle school.
Education Trust’s new report details an old complaint: The neediest students are the most likely to get teachers who didn’t specialize in the subject they’re trying to teach. It’s especially hard to hire and retain qualified math and science teachers in low-income, high-minority middle schools.