Education reforms are meaningless in RI unless they include accountability.
An omission in Asher Lehrer-Small’s recent article about reforms spearheaded by the state Department of Education puts a spotlight on the reason I’m skeptical and fear the changes are yet another cover-up of incompetence that will put Ocean State students even farther behind. The reasonable hook is this head-scratching finding of a problem that should be relatively easy to fix:
While about 80 percent of students said they wanted to attend college, just 60 percent enrolled in the courses necessary to be eligible for higher education, and only about 50 percent passed those classes. …
In many cases, high schoolers would sign up for classes and have no idea that their selections could disqualify them from access to higher education, [Education Commissioner Angelica] Infante-Green explained.
Yet, the most-concrete solution described in the article is this:
The new regulations also add flexibility for students who work or are caregivers, so they can receive credit for their real-world learning experiences. The changes will eliminate seat time in the classroom from being a criteria used to award academic credit, placing the emphasis instead on subject mastery and student proficiency.
The reason I’m skeptical of such changes, as reasonable as they may sound, is that they put the power of subjective judgment in the hands of a system that is already utterly failing and that has both strong incentive and immense power to avoid holding an adequate line. A school system that is failing to educate students has many reasons to paper over that failure by granting credit for student activities that have nothing to do with the system. At least seat time is measurable and puts the responsibility for education squarely in the classroom.
The problem runs even deeper, though. Nowhere in the article do we see a term at the center of students’ mismatch between intentions and class selection: guidance counsellors. Every district pays multiple people very well to provide exactly this kind of assistance. (They’re often, to my experience, highly active members of the teacher union, by the way.) Maybe there is some obstacle or institutional challenge that prevents them from doing their job well, but how can the Boston Globe not even mention their role and wonder whether a big reform is needed when simple accountability for the professionals who aren’t accomplishing their core mission would do?
Here, we reach the heart of the matter: the mushier the standards for grades and graduation, the more we need school personnel to be held responsible for upholding standards and achieving student goals. If we can’t even name those personnel as a problem area, we’ll find ourselves a decade or two into continually worsening results, with millions of children suffering for it.
Featured image from Shutterstock.
“Guidance counselors” Two memories from a now long distant past. I went to see the guidance counselor twice. The first time, while I was speaking, he took out one of those packages of Wheaties that came in a foil lined box. He then opened it, poured in milk and began eating. The second time, he tilted back in his chair and closed his eyes. I thought he was reflecting on my problem until the phone rang, then I realized he was sleeping.
As I have mentioned before, a former Secretary of Education (I hope I have title right) in Massachusetts summed up the situation thusly, “When we decied everyone should graduate from high school, we implicitly decided that the standards should be lowered”