The Benefits of Failing Students

One of the big topics at this conference, CABE 2012, is that we are failing our students. I don’t mean giving them an “F” in my class. The underlying theme is that our students are underprepared for life or college. I am sitting in a workshop listening to a presenter talk about long-term English learners who have been in our educational system for six or more years and they still are not proficient enough in English to be in mainstream classes. He is deficient in academic language and background knowledge sufficient to succeed in college.

And this is our fault.

It is our fault because we have been teaching him. Or not, apparently. He has not learned enough in our classes to succeed, or maybe even graduate. And, at first, this seems logical. Most teachers I know are going ask the same thing this presenter said, “What am I doing wrong? How have I failed this student so badly?”

I ask myself this every week, it seems.

But, this is a false correlation. After all, we don’t have total influence over our students. We are a big influence, no doubt. But, we are not the only influence, and we may not even be the greatest influence. Teachers are the largest in-school influence.

The following link examines whether or not schools are failing.

I don’t think this is a black and white, cut and dry situation. I don’t wish to make excuses for poor teachers. But, we have got to reconsider if demoralizing a majority of teachers is worth it. And, we have to consider who is doing the demoralizing and if they have any stakes in the game beyond making life better for kids.

One thing I see at these conferences is a lot of salesmanship. The majority of presenters are selling something to us. People know that there is a ton of money in school’s. I first saw this as ASB Director. I attended four annual conferences that had boatloads of money spent on them. The staging was high quality with professional sound and lights and beautiful sets. The exhibitors gave away so much swag that I needed several bags to carry them home. We got dinners and dances. Companies do not spend money like this because it makes them feel good. They spend money to make money. So, if they are willing to throw down this much cash it must mean they are profiting even more.

And they are. My school annually spent more than $150K on student activities. There are four high schools in my district and we are not an affluent school district. So, you’re looking at $500K coming out of our district, probably more than that. And, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of high schools in California. So, there are millions of dollars being spent.

This conference is for English Learners, students who don’t speak English natively. There are several hundred thousand dollars spent annually on these programs in our school, probably several million for the district. This is considered “categorical” funds, that is, they cannot be spent except on English Learners. They cannot be used in the district’s General Fund to pay for things like teacher salaries, for example.

My point is that if there is a lot of money to made off of these parts of the education system, then there are probably much more in the general education areas. There are billions of dollars spent on education. And, if you think that corporations are not eyeing that pile of money with avaricious leers then I think maybe you are naive and I would like to talk to you about investing in my own ventures.

If you can convince teachers they are doing a bad job in the classroom already, then you can sell them something to fix that. Teachers are, as a group, soft-hearted, and want to do the right thing. So, convince them that they aren’t helping their kids and that you know how they can and you will make a sale. I already saw that in myself. I know my kids aren’t learning enough academic vocabulary and I totally bought into Kate Kinsella’s vocabulary building system. I am ready to buy her book.

If you can convince Americans that schools are failing then you can sell them a new school, corporate-owned, that will fix those problems. If you can convince people that teachers’ unions are protecting bad teachers who are causing the schools to fail, you can break those unions. And, if you can convince the people that teachers are the biggest problem in schools, then you can break those teachers and pay them a lot less.

You will have to get the people to ignore poverty, bad parenting, poor life choices, influence of media, influence of peers, underfunding of schools, micromanaging curriculum, constantly shifting standards and curriculum, career-oriented administrators, straight-up corrupt administrators, and more.

But, apparently it’s not that tough as it’s happening right now.


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