Grade Day of Reckoning

Third quarter grades were due today, and as I finished entering them, I couldn’t help but notice the big picture for a lot of students.  Days like this are sobering and discouraging. 

Here are two screen shots from my computer, showing what we’re working with here. 

First, this is a transcript page for a girl in one of my classes.  As you can see, after three full semesters in high school, she has earned exactly two credits, including a half credit in the middle of a semester for something called “guidance.”  She also failed every class this quarter.  The large numbers indicate absences.  Notice also that she is listed as a tenth grader, even though she falls far short of being on track–our politicians recently decided to let every student be officially promoted by age with their friends, rather than measured by the credits they’ve earned.  Thanks, leaders!

Obviously, this kid is not going to graduate.  I don’t know why she even comes to school, why we haven’t guided her to another school option or made her more uncomfortable as she slacks her way toward failure, or what’s going on in her home that makes such rampant failure acceptable.  (Her father is an educated professional; her mother is a homemaker.) 

This second shot just shows grades for the first quarter and semester of this year for a young man I know.  As you can see, he rarely misses school, but fails every class (as he also did in the third quarter which just ended).  He also gets plenty of low marks in citizenship (“U” means “unacceptable”).  This boy also is almost halfway through high school and so far behind that there is no realistic way he’ll graduate–no matter what any well-intentioned bleeding heart tells you, even though a lot of kids end up trying to “turn around,” it’s very rare to go from years of doing maybe 10% of work to suddenly doing the 120% they need to make up lost ground and keep up what’s left.  Most fail anyway, and I think we do them a disservice by holding out the hope that they can just sit around and be fine. 

I’ve long thought that we need to make a new rule that kids who let themselves get behind by a certain amount need to be expelled–for their own good and everyone else’s (the vast majority of discipline problems come from kids like this).  Sometimes the kindest, most loving thing you can do for someone is to kick them in the butt and tell them to wake up.  Of course, such a sensible measure would never work–after all, as I just noted, our politicians now endorse social promotion.  Kids like this have no reason to change.

Not that this kid wants to make any change, anyway.  Why should he?  What’s his incentive?  His life is perfectly fun as it is.  His mother shipped him out here this year to live with his dad, but even he admits that the kid is beyond anyone’s influence. 

Surely, you say, he’s stacking the deck here.  These are the worst of the worst kids.  Yes, I admit, but I could easily give you two dozen more examples from my rosters exactly like them, and that’s just off the top of my head.  (Does the rest of the public really think that failure like this is because every teacher, every year, is falling horrifically short in their job?)  Are these special ed kids?  Nope.  Neither has any documented disability–they’re consciously choosing to fail.  Are they minorities (who, undeniably, do far worse in school than others)?  Wrong again–both of these kids, like most of my students, are white.  Remember, I teach at one of the best public schools in the state. 

Welcome to Las Vegas, welcome to Nevada, welcome to America, 2010.

3 comments on “Grade Day of Reckoning

  1. I have been complaining bitterly about sleep deprivation the past month or so due to excessive homework (I don’t feel like I can go to bed before my oldest). After this, I guess I should complain less and be grateful that my kids value education and are motivated.

    Who can tell what the cause is sometimes. A good friend of mine is an involved parent who values education and has tried to instill it in her offspring. The oldest was a National Merit Scholar. The middle kid is very bright, and has high PSAT scores. However, he opts to do very little in terms of classwork and is barely scraping by, if that. His parents have tried and tried to change this. It seems the harder they try, the less he does. He’s a good kid in terms of behavior and other types of responsibility, but they are at the end of their wits.

    In the cases where kids are not earning any credit over an extended period of time, it makes no sense to continue to move them up. I think that to continue to promote them to the next grade without any hope of graduating just prolongs the agony for everyone. It would be better for them to get a dose of reality sooner than later. In addition, why waste resources for kids who aren’t even trying to go through the motions. Some of the European countries do a better job at providing alternatives like trade schools or apprenticeships for those that either don’t want to go to traditional high school, or that don’t have the aptitude for it. Even though there are some of those options here, there still isn’t a complete solution for the issues you have illustrated.

    My oldest participates in an after school club “Intelligentsia” where they debate different issues. A month or so ago, the topic was whether education should be mandatory after the age of 16. She and I continued this conversation on the way home. She stated that a lot of the students in the discussion seemed to think that 70% of kids in Nevada would want to opt out. I don’t think this would be true at her school, as they are all a bunch of overachievers at ATECH. My opinion is that fewer students would opt to leave over time once the reality of teenagers having to do menial work for little pay starts to sink in. That is assuming they can even find a job in this economy. I can’t imagine parents continuing to foot the bill if kids decided to opt out of education at 16. There are a lot of other things that would be problematic with that proposal. Nonetheless, it was an interesting conversation.

    Thank you for the job you are doing. I can’t imagine how discouraging it can be at times. However, I have to believe you are making a difference for at least some students.

  2. Don’t totally disagree with you about the expelling idea…but all you do then is transfer the schools problem to the community. Now you have uneducated kids with no job prospects, money, desires roamomg the streets. Not the solution. One big problem is that the public schools are mainly one size fits all. I’ve learned that sometimes kids learn in other ways or sometimes they aren’t into certain subjects. I think (somehow) we need to keep kids in school till they’re 18 or we suffer with bigger issues. I think most kids do well in school but you would get a certain large number who would opt out at 16. Sixteen is to young and there are very few options after being a drop out. One idea I like is if you are not going to finish school or go to college lets enroll these kids into some job training or apprenticeship program, anything better than dropping out. IMHO didn’t we get rid of the social advancements in schools years ago.

  3. Mom, thanks for the feedback. You have great ideas. I’ve had a lot of parent conferences where my mental reaction is, “Oh, THAT’S why this kid is like that,” or, as we often say in schools, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the idiot tree.” But you’re right, too–I’ve met dozens of decent, hard working parents who just have tough kids for no good reason. Sometimes good parents just aren’t as involved or have as high standards as they think they do, or didn’t do more to insulate their kids from the general culture when they were younger, but the truth is, most of the time, nobody knows why kids choose to fail so often as they do. My best guess is simply that there’s no incentive to work–if it doesn’t make a difference in life right now, most teens won’t so the point of boring self discipline and effort.

    Mex, you say that if we kick out consistently lazy kids, we’d get “uneducated kids with no job prospects, money, desires roamomg the streets,” but what the heck do you think we have now? Juvenile courts which punish the parents of offenders have found that this gets results, so if we take the free babysitting off the table, maybe it will help. It sure couldn’t hurt.

    You’re both right about needing more options, though. Actually, you might be surprised at how many are already out there. I think most of these habitually academically deficient students are just there to socialize and/or because they’re just used to the system, so I wonder if they might benefit from online schooling, which is getting more popular every day. Signing up more kids for that would certainly solve a lot of problems.

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