The Inadequacies of K-12 Teaching
There is, to use the words of Pat Smith in an op-ed piece in the Columbus Dispatch a couple of days ago a "disconnect" between high school teachers and college professors as to how well prepared the students they train are for college work. Citing The American College Testing Program which assessed the attitudes of high school teachers and college professors, she writes:
The disconnect is substantial in all subjects: Seventy-six percent of high-school English teachers think their students are well-prepared for college work, whereas only 33 percent of professors think so. In reading, the gap is 72 percent to 36 percent; in math, 79 percent vs. 42 percent; and in science, 67 percent vs. 32 percent. In other words, students appear to be no better prepared than those in previous years, despite all the attempts to improve their performance.I can reasonably be charged with bias on this question because I was a college professor for many years and never have been a high school teacher but the fact is that the people who are best qualified to assess how well college students are prepared for college work is the professors who are actually teaching them. High school teachers may have gone to college but that in itself does not qualify them to evaluate how well they are preparing their students for college level work.
It is worth asking why our teachers are failing to prepare kids for college work. The first answer that came to my mind was that the problem lies in the fact that our teachers are not particularly good and that that itself is due to the fact that the kids who gravitate toward K-12 teaching are not the brightest bulbs in our university chandeliers. However, in an effort to find research on the intellectual abilities of our teachers using Google Scholar, what I found is that there seems to be little correlation between teacher intelligence (in an IQ sense) and their ability to teach effectively. So, I will reluctantly abandon that thesis.
The single most important problem our teachers face is that they are caught between a rock and a hard place that has resulted from our "one size fits all" approach to education. The rock is holding back kids who do failing work and the hard place is "socially promoting" kids who do failing work. In regard to this problem, reading specialist, Debra Johnson, in a report prepared for the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory writes:
Extensive research indicates that neither holding students back a grade nor promoting them unprepared fosters achievement. Studies indicate that retention negatively impacts students' behavior, attitude, and attendance. Social promotion undermines students' futures when they fail to develop critical study and job-related skills.President Clinton argued in a State of the Union address that schools systems must stop the practice of social promotion. Some apparently did. However, many have not. But as noted, simply holding kids back is no solution.
The reality is that we are born in this world with different abilities and we develop different interests. If we want our schools to succeed, it is imperative that we match kids up with programs of study that match their abilities and interests. According to The Onion
If you work hard, believe in yourself, and never lose sight of your dreams, you can achieve anything you want, the make-believe children's-book character Chipper Chipmunk said Tuesday.This theme that kids can be whatever they want to be seems to be common in children's books. It is, of course, total crap. Moreover, it is dangerous crap for it sets kids up for huge disappointments. Until we match students up with appropriate programs of study teachers will always be between the rock and hard places mentioned above.
It pains me to cite "Fair and Balanced" Fox news but it has a useful story titled "Flunking Out of School? Get a Lawyer" which started out "Some parents have slapped lawsuits on teachers, saying their kids deserved better marks and should be allowed to graduate from high school despite their grades." How it is that parents believe that they are in a better position to judge the academic work of their kids than teachers are is a complete mystery to me. Maybe these parents believe that their kids can be anything they want to be, thanks to reading children's books to them.
Teachers appear to vary a great deal in their ability to teach. A very interesting web page on teacher quality cites Stanford University researcher Linda Darling-Hammond as showing that "teacher ability is a stronger determinant of student achievement than poverty, race, or parents' educational attainment." Unfortunately, teachers associations have resisted formal evaluations of the abilities of teachers. Teachers give exams but they don't want to take them. However, George Bush managed to do an end run around the teachers' associations by getting his "No Child Left Behind" bill passed. There have been a lot of legitimate complaints about this bill, the worst of which may be that it has led teachers, perhaps at the direction of administrators, to teach kids to pass the standardized tests rather than teach their subject matter. The wonderful HBO show, The Wire, had a very nice program featuring this practice last season. Even so, what these tests are proving is that our schools are no damn good, which is, more or less, what professors are saying when they claim that high schools as failing to prepare students for college.