This is a piece written by B. Sharise Moore for Our Asylum. It is one of those pieces that tends to draw a lot of attention here, so I would like to ask that you keep your debate cordial as defined by Asylum Staff and Owl. Any debate deemed outside of this prescribed cordiality will by erased and the commenter blocked from commenting in this post, and on probation from commenting in any other posts here.
The notion is impossible given the oppressive system that pulls its purse strings.
- The Preparedness Gap (not to be confused with The Achievement Gap)
- Overcrowded Classrooms
- Overemphasis on Testing
The Achievement Gap refers to the disproportionate degree to which students from different ethnic groups perform, on average, on standardized tests. However, The Preparedness Gap, unlike The Achievement gap, takes into consideration outside variables, like poverty and access (or lack thereof), that play a large part in a child’s academic achievement. With that being said, the average child living in a Middle Class household arrives in Kindergarten having been exposed to ten thousand or more words than the average child living in poverty. Vocabulary is THE guiding measuring stick in early childhood education placement tests. A child’s vocabulary is the reference point to how, by whom, and even where a child will be educated. Many of our children are ENTERING school at a disadvantage. By age 6, many are either being pipe-lined to prison or being groomed for abject failure.
During my 9 years as a classroom teacher, my average class size consisted of about 25 students. (Last year I taught a Standard Level 8th grade Language Arts Class with 38 students. The school did not have enough desks to accommodate the number of students in our rooms.) The creation of classes of this size makes several assumptions. It assumes that the teacher delivering the instruction is a good classroom manager. It also assumes that each of the 25 (or more) pupils will enter the classroom with writing utensil and books in hand, quietly, on time, and ready to learn. More often than not, this is not the case. Unprepared teachers and unmotivated students exist. Distractions exist. And it is counterproductive to believe that a healthy, safe, and effective learning environment can be created among 25+ adolescent and/or prepubescent children without a great deal of support from parents, resource teachers, and the school’s administration.
Student to teacher ratio has been a concern for decades. It is directly affected by a school district’s budget as well as the availability of highly qualified teachers. In recent years it’s been no secret that school districts across the country have been the recipients of deep budget cuts. Those cuts have directly affected teacher salaries via furloughs, the disposal of cost of living raises, the retaining of support staff (paraprofessionals, classroom aids, resource teachers), and new hires. With the country still knee deep in a recession, the chances for relief look bleak.
NCLB (No Child Left Behind) has played a major role in restructuring the American classroom. In the name of accountability, the law has grossly affected the way teachers teach, and I believe, the way students are learning. In short, NCLB uses a state mandated standardized test as a tool for meeting a predetermined group of tiered expectations in the core courses. After the test has been administered, the data is analyzed both wholly (the entire student body) and categorically. Students are grouped by socioeconomic class (Students who receive Free and Reduced Meals), ethnicity, disability (Students who receive services for Special Education), and ESL (English Language Learners). Their test scores are then measured against a predetermined cut score (The percentage of students who need a proficient score on the test is different for each group) that determines whether the child has scored Basic, Proficient, or Advanced in a given tested area. The total findings, which also include school wide attendance, determine whether or not the school has met the requirements for AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).
The purpose of NCLB was to raise expectations of all children and to hold poorly performing teachers accountable. However, this has not occurred. Budget cuts have not allowed for new hires and have often resulted in cuts in Professional Development. School administrators are inundated with bureaucratic fires that need their constant attention. Classroom observations either rarely occur or do not occur at all. And all curriculum have been tailored to fit neatly inside the framework of the almighty standardized test. Even those who teach electives are required to include elements of the test within their art/music/drama/physical education, etc. subject areas.
The curriculum refers to what teachers teach. It is the framework of the subject matter at hand. It is the nuts and bolts of instruction and the basis for which tests are created. It is also, in most cases, Euro-centric in design, outdated, irrelevant, and disconnected to the holistic learning our children need. Not a single child should graduate from an American high school without knowing how to construct a resume. Not a single child should be able to graduate if he or she cannot balance a check book, understand percentages, or think critically. Something is wrong when nearly 40% of students are required to take remedial classes upon entering this country’s colleges and universities. Something has gone awry when America’s public schools graduate students who are oblivious of multiplication tables, incapable of articulating themselves effectively, or writing a complete sentence.
Where are the life skills? Where are the mathematical to real-life connections between store sales and improper fractions? Where are the multicultural characters in fictitious stories that look like the students we teach? Where is the relevance between schooling and living?
Many of our children aren’t prepared. They are all excessively assessed. Their classrooms are overcrowded. And they are being taught from an outdated curriculum that in many cases, isn’t and won’t ever be, relevant to their lives. We’re failing them. America’s schools are not adequately educating our children and I wonder if they ever have.
*B. Sharise Moore is a published author, performance poet, and certified secondary English teacher in the state of Maryland. She taught classes in English, Language Arts, Drama, Journalism, and French from 2002-2011.