Mandatory volunteerism

I know I’ve banged this particular drum before, but it’s always good to remind yourself of the absurd and insidious, lest it draw you in.  High school seniors in Maryland right now are busy rushing around in that typical year end frenzy to make up credits, pass exams, and… get their community service hours squared away.  Maryland is the only state with a statewide “service learning” requirement.

Twenty years after Maryland became the first state to require student service for a diploma, the senior scramble is a rite of spring. In Montgomery, 25 percent of seniors still had hours to turn in this week. In Prince George’s County, 36 percent were not yet done.

Spring break is crunch time.

“Hopefully they’re going to find something meaningful to do,” said Pam Meador, coordinator of the program for Montgomery schools.

Because as we all know, working to make your life and the life of those you love better, to make yourself a content and happy member of society… that’s not meaningful.  But is this really the best way to go about it?

“All of us want kids to intrinsically want to give back,” said Peter Noonan, an assistant Fairfax superintendent.

But forced service can backfire, he said. “My experience with kids is that when they are forced to do things, they typically don’t want to do it again,” Noonan said.

You don’t say?  Well at least we’re clear about the purpose: to change what it is kids want to do, intrinsically.  It’s absolutely straightforward values manipulation — which is usually called indoctrination.  I’ve previously argued, on many occasions, that unpaid internships are really unfair to kids from poor families who can’t afford to spend the summer working for free.  (I wasn’t arguing for their legal abolition, merely pointing out their moral perniciousness.  I’m a free marketeer at the end of the day.)   We shouldn’t be surprised that kids with more home support are better able to deal with these requirements as well:

Some students have advantages. Their parents might drive them around to activities starting in middle school. They might attend community-service summer camps, which can cost $350 a week. They might accumulate hours for, say, a bar mitzvah or a church confirmation and use that to meet school requirements.

I’m not anti-community service.  Have people come in to schools and preach about the joys of community service if you like.  Maybe they’ll inspire someone.  Post opportunities at school on a big colorful board.  Maybe the curious will become true believers.

Heck, if you’re going to have mandatory community service, have it be school improvement.  Plant and tend gardens at school (decorative, not productive).  Clean buildings and floors.  Do tech work for a play.  Work as the water boy/towel washer for a sports team.  Work in the library.  Help with minor construction projects.  Sort files.  Straighten up the music library.  Polish the band’s instruments.

At least then the students will be engaging in public service that obviously benefits them, and they’ll be able to see daily the results of their labor.

Of course, the classified employee’s labor union would object to a lot of these.

Schools: Make us teach science or we won’t

California will require only one year of science to graduate from high school if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget is approved, reports the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

It’s part of a move to give school districts more flexibility on how they use limited funds, says Brown’s budget director.

School leaders say schools will spend even more time on reading, writing and math if the state requires less science.

“To me, it’s absolutely astounding that the state of California, our leadership, would actually believe it would be appropriate not to have more science and actually have less science,” said longtime Santa Rosa School Board member Frank Pugh. “I hope the public really understands — they are dismantling, day-by-day, public education.”

Funding flexibility lets districts shift money to required programs or drop expensive classes, such as lab science, in favor of lower-cost classes, educators  said.  In recent years, that’s happened to adult education, maintenance, art supplies, career technical and libraries.

“I imagine that districts that are really struggling financially will probably pocket the money to help their finances,” Pugh said.

College-bound students need at least two years of lab science to apply to state universities. The change will affect students who aren’t on a college-prep track. Some might benefit from the flexibility to pursue career options, said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Others believe all students need two years of science. “It’s a way to become analytical,” science teacher Patty Dunlap told the Press-Democrat.  ”They don’t realize they are going to have to analyze everything they do in life,” she said. “All of our kids deserve the opportunity to have a well-rounded education.”

Of course, school districts can require more science than the state minimum.

Update: California’s science standards received an A in Fordham’s State of the State Science Standards 2012. Most states received a D or F.

In particular, state standards struggled with vagueness and an overemphasis on “inquiry-based learning” instruction, while overwhelmingly failing to clearly convey the crucial connection between math and science. Although the treatment of evolution has improved since Fordham’s last assessment of state science standards in 2005, many states still miss the mark on teaching this vital topic.

The District of Columbia also earned an A, while Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Virginia got an A-.  The F states, according to Fordham, were Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Maryland: Graduates must be green

Maryland students must be “environmentally literate” to earn a high school diploma, reports the Baltimore Sun. No other state has such a requirement.

Under the rule, public schools will be required to work lessons about conservation, smart growth and the health of our natural world into their core subjects like science and social studies.

Districts will develop their own teaching and evaluation plans, which must be approved by the state superintendent. Maryland will not provide more funding for environmental education.

Eco-socialist propaganda will trump science, predicts Red State.

Seattle: Is D- good enough to graduate?

Seattle’s school board may delay a decision to let students graduate with a D average. Currently, students need a C — with a lot of exceptions. The board also wants to let D students compete on sports teams.

At the same time, the board vows to raise standards.

While parents and community leaders oppose the move, reports the Seattle Times, “most high-school principals and counselors support the changes, saying the C-average policy hurts students who can’t catch up if, for any number of reasons, they have a bad year or arrive in high school performing well below grade level.”

Yet in Federal Way — one of just a few nearby school districts that also require at least a C-minus for graduation and to participate in sports — the change hasn’t led to big problems. Superintendent Tom Murphy said he was skeptical at first and still worries that change might cause grade inflation. But overall, he says, it seems to have a positive impact, especially for athletes.

“It has shown kids that they can meet higher standards when they really want to and when they have to.”

When the C-average requirement went into effect in Seattle in 2001. one-fourth of students were at risk of not graduating. The district stopped counting F’s in calculating grade-point averages, and offered waivers to D students. Last year, the district went back to averaging in failing grades — but not for seniors who might not graduate.