Monday, June 9, 2008

Public Education's Not What It Used To Be!

Just a warning - I'm about to turn into my father...

Back when I was a kid, school ended a week or so after Father's Day, and we managed to actually be taught something almost to the last day. The final week or so might have more film strips or 16mm films to watch in class than usual, but there was at least a modicum of education being taught. That is NOT the case with school in 2008.

Today marks the beginning of the last week of school for my two sons, although pragmatically speaking, the school year has been over for some time for both of them. For high school freshman Brad, the education ended pretty much after Memorial Day, when his High School assessment tests were given. During that week of exams, Brad only had to be in class to take his tests, and otherwise had the rest of the time off. He was literally at school for a day and a half total that week. Last week, he missed school on Thursday because of a power failure, and there were no classes on Friday because of graduation. Back in my day (you young whippersnappers), we didn't get graduation day off unless we were actually graduating!

This week, Brad has his final exams. The way they are scheduled, he will have half a day of school today and tomorrow, no school at all on Wednesday and two hours of school on Thursday, the official last day of classes.

For younger son Spencer, who is ending fourth grade, elementary school is not much tougher. His assessment tests are also finished, and his homework effectively ended more than a week ago. He has already had one or two end-of-year class parties, and he will wrap up the week with more classroom celebrations. Graded work is now a quickly fading memory for him as well.

Maryland State law mandates that our children receive at least 180 days of instruction a year, and frankly, my kids are getting ripped off in that regard. Spencer has had a steady flow of homework through the year, but Montgomery County is not demanding nearly enough of its high school students. Brad coasted through 9th grade, and received straight A's for the second straight quarter. I am, of course, quite proud of him, but I am concerned as well. High school is not supposed to be such a breeze. Out kids need to be challenged more, and they need to develop study habits now so they will not be crushed by the sudden weight of college work. My son could really stand to face the burden of an hour of work a night, but more often than not this year, he literally had no homework... and what little he DID have, he managed to finish at school, because his teachers rarely filled all of his classtime with actual education.

You can choose whoever you want to blame for all this, and the school system will deny it loudly, but the fact of the matter is, the only thing school officials care about is having students do well on their assessment tests. Once those are out of the way, the teaching is done for the year.

That is - done for the teachers and the school system, of course. They are so paranoid about the kids they've just poorly taught being prepared for the fall that they will send home a mountain of work for our kids to review over the summer so they'll be prepared to resume the cycle again at the end of August. This is another phenomenon we did not have to worry about back in the day. Fall, Winter and Spring were for learning. Summer was for fun. Now, Fall and Winter are for learning to take tests, Spring is for taking the tests (and nothing else) and Summer is for reviewing the material you really didn't learn so well the previous 10 months.

We spend so much time being obsessed with how much better educated school children in other countries are, and studies are constantly claiming the need for longer school years for our kids. Maybe we should first worry about filling up our existing school days with actual education!

By gum!

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