Column

The Whiteboard Jungle: The buck should stop at public schools

“Who was absent yesterday and needs the handout?” is not a question a teacher of high school seniors should pose. In less than one year, how will these students function on their own, choosing courses, purchasing books, transporting themselves to college?

We baby students. Too much. Too often.

Chancellor Timothy P. White of the California State University system made the right call earlier this month proclaiming that starting in the fall of 2018, incoming freshmen will no longer be given placement tests in English or math, nor will those who struggle be enrolled in remedial classes.

The decision is based primarily on the length it takes a CSU student to complete a degree, and the extra money students have to spend by remaining enrolled beyond the traditional four years.

Currently, over one third of freshmen are enrolled in these classes; CSU’s four-year graduation rate stands at 19%.

Between now and then, each campus will figure out a plan on how to ensure that these students will succeed through other means.

The larger problem no one wishes to address is that these recent high school graduates are not ready for college.

Several of them are suspended on a rickety bridge between 12th grade and freshman year resembling an Indiana Jones cliffhanger: who will make it to college and who will not.

Those of us who work at the high-school level need to look in the mirror and question our methods and expectations.

Much teacher training is spent on how to scaffold and differentiate lessons, breaking down hard concepts into smaller chunks, which eventually handicaps the lower-ability students and frustrates the higher-ability ones.

Some of this work fits earlier grades. However, come high school, more should be asked of students.

Each grade from kindergarten through 12th should purposefully be organized to ensure with each passing year, teachers hold the students’ hands less while the students gain more control of their learning. That way, by the time students cross the stage and hoist up their diplomas, there is true meaning behind that accomplishment.

An integral aspect of attending college is being mature enough to handle the extended freedom and independence.

Schools get the concept of “college prep” wrong. While applying the phrase to upper-grade coursework, college prep actually begins in kindergarten not high school. Every grade, every class should prepare students to further their education beyond 12th grade, be it college or learning a trade.

High school seniors should not still be working on how to write an effective paragraph. These kids will fail in their first quarter of college.

This past summer school, one Glendale administrator urged teachers not to fail students. Having failed classes during the regular school year, these students were given an opportunity to retake them by only being taught 60% of the curriculum. Yet some still couldn’t pass the class.

Administrators and teachers who wipe clean the F are not doing these students a favor. Maybe the only real lesson that student will have learned in summer school is that a person needs to work at something in order to receive credit.

If that lesson is not learned at the high-school level, then a four-year college is not the right option for that individual.

President Harry S. Truman had a famous sign on his desk while in the White House: The buck stops here.

Those of us in public schools need to adhere to standards. Passing along students who do little to no work or show little to no grasp of subject matter is real failure.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,00 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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