Generation Why: About Academic Probation

I’m getting good feedback from people on this column, which was published last night in The Salem Leader, so I’m publishing it here, too:

The Salem Leader
Generation Why
Justin Harter
February 2011

About Salem and WW’s Academic Probation

Salem and West Washington Schools are on Academic Probation, which is state government code for “Miserable failures unfit to the hold the title of ‘school’”. Sorta.

First, “Academic Probation” is the equivalent of an “F” on an A to F scale. However, anyone that’s spent more than 20 seconds inside a school before knows that some kids are there to learn and some kids are, well, just there. The state’s guidelines are based on percentages and students take standardized tests whether the kids even took classes to prepare them for that test or not. In the case of Salem and West Washington’s smaller student populations, Academic Probation happens when four kids wake up late and don’t eat their Wheaties. They go to school, fail a test and suddenly the whole community is a miserable failure.

According to the state Department of Education’s website, there are 101 high schools on Academic Watch (the “D” ranking) and 190 more on Academic Probation (the “F” ranking, so to speak). That’s 291 out of, wait for it…385 high schools. So, 76% of Indiana’s high schools suck. Good to know.

Now that we got that out there, what do we do about it? If you’ve spent longer than 5 minutes talking to a teacher, they’d tell you the State is making ridiculous demands. If you spent 5 minutes talking to a state legislator or someone from the DOE, they’d tell you the Feds are making ridiculous demands. I think the whole thing is ridiculous.

Everyone says they need more money. Because that’ll fix it. The Feds keep writing checks despite the fact the account hasn’t had any money in years. The States keep shuffling that money down to schools after they take their cut and redistribute that wealth into worse-off districts. Kids here in Indianapolis Public Schools siphon off about a thousand dollars more per student than students in Salem get. Then the schools have their administrative mumbo jumbo and suddenly the students and teachers are left with enough money for a broken ruler and a globe that still calls Russia “The U.S.S.R.”

We, as a society, keep shoveling money into this problem and somehow the kids keep getting dumber. I get it. As Americans, we don’t like fixing problems that can’t be fixed by throwing a bunch of money at it. “Jimmy can’t read? Here, have a billion dollars.” But that billion dollars doesn’t help teach Jimmy to read. All it does is buy a lot of books. Jimmy needs a teacher to show him the letters of the alphabet, the sounds they make and to make him practice, practice, practice. Sadly, Jimmy’s teacher has 30 other illiterate kids that all learn at different paces and in different ways. Plus, the teacher knows that 20 out of 100 words are probably going to be on the State’s Official Test, so we’d better just focus on those 100 words and hope for the best. Then, Jimmy goes home and eats a hot pocket and a slice of frozen pizza and sits on the couch and mom and dad can’t understand why Jimmy isn’t reading.

Maybe the schools don’t suck – maybe you suck. Yeah, you. If you’ve got a kid in school and you don’t know how to read that well or do multiplication tables yourself, what chance does Jimmy have? Even if your kid gets A’s, it’s an A by American school standards, which aren’t that high compared to other countries, and you’re just complacent with that to keep letting it slide. You think that A is something special, but it’s not.

If we’re going to throw a bunch of money at schools, let’s throw it at boarding schools. Put kids in school for 24 hours a day. We already feed kids two meals a day and Obama’s pushing for dinner service, too. If we’re going to feed every kid 3 times a day, it can’t be much more difficult to give them a pillow and a place to sleep. Maybe then the kids can get away from parents that smoke, yell, drink, ignore them and abuse them. As a proponent of smaller government, you have no idea how difficult it is for me to even fathom that idea. But, at this point, I think the majority of American parents have proven they are incapable of teaching their kids anything but curse words and to fear Jesus.

And if money’s not something we want to throw at this problem anymore, then we need to realize that some kids are smart and some aren’t. Contrary to popular belief, not every brain starts out empty with the same storage capacity and fills up at the same rate. Do away with the tests that don’t mean anything to anyone looking for a job and let local schools worry about taking care of the students the best they can and using methods that work for their students. Dictating one-size-fits-all solutions only produces one-size-fits-all problems, and that’s what really deserves an “F”.

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