We had a teacher workday recently. During that day, we had a meeting of the science department. Here is how part of it it went:
Head of Science Department: “If we actually graded our students’ performance against the standards, and gave them the grades that we should, two thirds of them would have an F.”
Anatomy teacher: “If we do that, we will all be out of a job.”
Department head: “You got that right. Just give them good grades, and send them down the road.”

It is a losing battle. You assign homework, less than half the class even attempts to do the work, and of that half, three quarters of them copy the answers from another student. I caught a student cheating on an exam by using his cell phone. As per policy, he got a zero and a referral. The parent, rather than being angry at the child for cheating, defended her child by saying that there is no proof that using a cell phone during a test is cheating.

She said that the child was simply texting his mother about picking him up after school, and claimed that we cannot prevent a child from texting his mother. The Vice Principal asked me if I had actually seen the child using the phone to lookup answers. I replied that I cannot see that, because the kid puts the phone away as soon as you approach.

I was told that I must allow the student to take the test without penalty, unless I actually see the student looking up answers. Simply having a phone out during a test is not sufficient, because a phone can be used for doing other things besides looking up answers.

The kids learn nothing, because they cheat on tests all year, do not do homework, and refuse to study. However, if the child gets anything less than a B, parents complain. If more than a handful of the students receive a failing grade, the teacher is in danger of losing their job. The school famously says “There are no bad students, only bad teachers. It is your job as a teacher to find a way to motivate them to learn.”

At the end of the year, the students are given a standardized test to see what they learned in the past year. The test is 30% of the student’s grade, but the score is adjusted. If a child misses every question, the minimum score that is used for their grade is a 58%. This makes it impossible for them to fail the test. The students know this, and unless the student is an honor student, which most are not, they don’t care what grade they get.

However, the school gets graded on how the students do, as do the teachers. If the students of a given school do poorly, the school gets less money from the state. The teachers are also graded on how the students do. If your students do poorly, then you are out of a job.

It is the craziest, most dysfunctional system that I have ever seen. My job depends, not on my performance, but on the performance of a third party, who faces no consequences for poor performance. I have high school seniors as students who are reading at a second grade level, and who cannot even convert grams into kilograms without using an App on their phone. How can I teach them Chemistry?

My job depends on two things:
Keeping parents happy by ensuring that most kids get good grades.
Hoping like hell that the kids do well enough on the standardized tests at the end of the year.

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Anonymous · January 10, 2016 at 11:02 am

My sister is facing the exact same situation as a teacher in middle school. She's retiring before burning out.

da_truth36 · January 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

What a ridiculous situation for anyone to find themselves in, but not entirely surprising. What was that percentage of NY public school graduates that couldn't even read? High 80's, low 90's? And it seems like we pay for this privilege ourselves, in the form of tax dollars allocated to Department of Education. Ever see that movie Idiocracy? It's coming true.

SiGraybeard · January 11, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Years ago, I read someone saying the only response to public education was "nuke it from orbit; it's the only way to be sure". It bothered me because of the obvious question, "well what do we do with the children?".

Now I think it would be better for the children and everybody to just junk the system. The kids might learn that they need to learn something and learn how to do things, when they get tired of laying sod or picking fruit.

The only parties that wouldn't benefit is you (teachers), and the other jobs that depend on it.

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