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"Normal" isn't what it used to be.  American education will never be the solution we all want it to be unless we look soberly at what is actually going on in our schools.

I have a good friend who teaches first grade up north in Michigan.  Traverse City is a bright spot in the otherwise severely depressed rust-belt economy.  It's a regional center for light industry, medical care, education, services, retailing, and commercial and wholesale supply. It has fine museums, music, good restaurants, and wonderful recreational activities.  Incomes are above-average.

Amy's 20 six-year olds are pretty average kids.  She's is an exemplary teacher, and most of them are doing well, but there are three or four who are not.  Problems at home: poverty, single parents, bad boyfriends...... Lots of snow and cold this winter and one kid who shows up often smelling of pee, wearing the same ratty sweat pants and tee-shirt, sometimes with no socks.  The school does what it can, and keeps a supply of clean clothes available.  The hot lunch is free for these kids. Social services are involved, and two of the kids are receiving psychological services.  There are many students at Amy's school that really should be in a special-ed type of school, but inadequate funding has too many in the mainstream.  Frequently, a child will spin out and have to be removed from the school and sent to a special-ed facility that is equipped to handle emotionally disturbed children.  Nowadays, the teachers at the regular schools are required to take EMT type training in how to safely restrain a violent kid.  This is the new "normal" at American schools.  It works, more or less, within the constraints of available resources.

After 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM with the kids, and then 'till 5:30 or 6:00PM prepping, and handling paper work, Amy finishes her long day at school. She hasn't had a raise in years. She doesn't complain and does a great job not letting it get her down.  Amy knows that she and her fellow teachers are making a difference every day.

I have to ask however, why we aren't doing more, a LOT MORE for these kids.  It's bad luck and bad choices that got them where they are. But guess what, six-year olds don't make those choices, the grown-ups do.  And, it's up to the rest of us grown-ups to make good on a promise to help with all our hearts that these kids won't end up living the same tragedies as their parents.  Four kids doesn't sound like much, but it's one-in-five, 20%, and that's plain TOO DAMNED MUCH for a truly healthy community to thrive and prosper in the future.

Originally posted to boatwright on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 09:29 PM PST.

Poll

It's simple, just test the teachers.

6%3 votes
9%4 votes
9%4 votes
75%33 votes

| 44 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Damn Right! (7+ / 0-)

    I am a student therefore I can not vote

    I can not vote therefore no one will listen to me

    No one will listen to me therefore no one will change anything to benefit me

    No one will change anything to benefit me therefore I will suffer

    I will suffer because I do not have a voice

    I do not have a voice because I am a student

    Repeat process

    Unfortunately that is America now. Don't blame me, I didn't vote against school's. I can't vote. Only you can give me a vote. VOTE.

    thank you for this diary. When stories like this are true it not only hurts the students, the teachers, or our collective society, it pains the future of America itself. It is integral to our Republic that we educate the masses.

    You should post a tip jar. (I waited 10 minutes before commenting to give ample time)

    A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

    by danmitch on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 09:39:27 PM PST

  •  You know, much of what you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, luckylizard, JellyBearDemMom

    describe is not so much a problem with the schools as it is a problem with the parents.  Your diary even makes this point:  that the school and social services are doing what they can.

    To me, the only thing they could do beyond these things is literally remove more of these children from their parents' custody.  And that avenue is fraught with its own set of worries, not the least of which is a shortage of competent foster families.

    Far too many people who should not procreate, do so anyway. :(

    •  Who are we to judge? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      denise b, luckylizard

      Who am I, danmitch, to judge who should be able to reproduce and who should not be allowed to?

      Who are you, Are We There Yet, to judge the same?

      I agree--if you can not take care of a child you should not have one. But to say that some people are unworthy and should not procreate is going a little too far in my opinion.

      A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

      by danmitch on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 10:06:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The sad reality, they don't remove kids (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JellyBearDemMom, Rachel Q

      until they're broken and bloodied. I used to call in pretty serious - to me, abuse situations and would get a response of "OK we'll make a note of it." Only sexual abuse and observable physical abuse got a worker to question the kids.

      Smelling of pee - if the kids smell of cat pee that can be exposure to Meth cooking.

  •  I never knew how bad it was (4+ / 0-)

    until I was talking to a social worker (kinda) about my son who has FAS/FAE and is on the MR scale.

    It blew my mind totally to realize that he could be placed in a class with the normal kids.  My son is mentally retarded and he could be placed with those who are not.  And be tested as such.  How fucked up is that??

    NCLB needs to be done away with.  It is an horrific idea by a horrific man.

  •  No mystery to it. (0+ / 0-)

    Find out what needs doing.
    Find out how much it costs.
    Tax sufficiently to meet that cost.
    Voila - a system that works.

    Yearn for the horizon.

    by Troubadour on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 10:13:17 PM PST

  •  IDEA (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JellyBearDemMom

    Individuals with disabilities act requires full inclusion of all kids into the classroom. The needy kids  should be in the least restrictive setting possible. It makes other kids more tolerant of differences and the needy kids do better in an ordinary classroom than in separate rooms as long as there are not too many in the class.  It's life.  Half of all people are below average.

    •  In some ways it is a good thing (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chigh, JellyBearDemMom

      As a teacher, I've seen students who would normally be denied access to different classes given the chance to experience totally different things as a result of NCLB.

      The sad truth is not all teachers are good and kindly and inclusive. Some of them will push out students who step out of line too much. And yes, you have to maintain discipline, but the real job of a teacher is to hold open the door of knowledge, not slam it into someone's face.

      •  Here's what I don't understand, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chigh, Ms Citizen, JellyBearDemMom

        our student population has always included special needs students and children with behavioral issues(ADHD) but we seem less and less able to deal with them.  We actually have more tools today because we understand the underlying issues better but it seems to have made the situation worse in the classroom not better.  Students seem to spend less time in school and less time on homework than they did 30 years ago and it is reflected in their test scores.  I believe we rank as one of the lowest in days students spend in school when the truth is that our students need to spend more time in class and this is especially true for those students that are the most vulnerable.  Our schools need to be in session from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, which would reflect the new realities of the two income family.  We are no longer an agricultural society so the hours and structure make absolutely no sense in today's world.  

        •  You're talking about so many different issues. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          chigh, JellyBearDemMom

          in the last 30 years we've seen across-the-board increases on test scores, for increasingly difficult standardized tests.

          We don't actually perform WORSE, on average, than other countries. We do seem to have a wider RANGE of students. From AdLit.org:

          "The best students in the U.S. do as well as anyone in the world," said Barry McGaw, the deputy director for education for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based group that conducted the survey of 15-year-olds' achievement. "What drags the U.S. average down is that there are lots of kids in the country doing poorly."

          The gap between America's best readers and its worst is wider than in any other country, according to results released last week from the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment, which assessed 15-year-olds' reading skills, mathematical abilities, and scientific knowledge. While that gap between high and low scorers is not as pronounced in math and science, it is still greater for the United States than for most of the nations in the study.

          I believe this gap is because the US has a policy of giving different amounts of money to each school. There are no two schools in the U.S. that get the same amt of money no matter how you slice it. Jonathan Kozol documents how some schools in politicians' favorite districts get a lot, while others get a little. I think he used two areas in Jersey as an example - they were receiving 10,000 to 12,000 per child from the government for public education, and had computers and everything. While in the middle of New York City there are schools that get a 3,000 to 4,000 a head - less than a third!

          Other countries are more equitable.

          Secondly, schools aren't intended to be your babysitter and were never, ever intended to be the place your kids learned while you went to work. I'm also not sure that sending kids to school for a "workday" is a good idea; they already have homework which they need to do at home, and the brain needs downtime from learning or it'll break, like a rubberband you pull too tightly. I would instead change the annual schedule. I like the idea of having six weeks of school, then two weeks off. Summer vacation was originally invented so kids could work the fields :)

          •  There is no equity in education funding... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            joseph rainmound

            the most needy schools don't get enough for property taxes and the states often lack the political will to give these communities more state funds for education.

            I believe that is a large part of the problem.  and the problem is also the dwindling middle class and the growing numbers of people living in abject poverty.

            It is harder to teach the children when more of their families are truly struggling.

            E. -6.38, S. -4.62 Move forward or fall back...your choice! Be well my animal babies.

            by JellyBearDemMom on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 04:51:28 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with your point regarding inequality (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            joseph rainmound

            in funding.  The federal government can act as the balance here and require states to provide this equity or lose federal aid.  I know some states already do this.  I pay extraordinary property taxes but do not begrudge it because we have some of the best schools in the state but I also know the not 20 minutes away there are communities with greater need that don't have the programs that we have.  

            As far as schools being baby sitter's, they will serve whatever need that we decide they should serve(and will fund) and I believe they should serve to educate, support parents and to protect our children.  I am not suggesting that students be in class the whole time but as I point out, not only do our students spend less days in school, we spend less time on core learning than do other countries. Our students even when they finish high school graduate two years behind most other industrialized countries on core subject matter.  Most of our students speak only English while most other countries require fluency in at least two languages.

            Please stop with the meme that our best our as good as their best because it's just not true, our employers tell us that.  We have always been a nation of immigrants and we used to do a better job of educating all our students.

            •  I won't stop with the 'meme.' (0+ / 0-)

              I feel it's true. I've gone to uni in several countries, and taught and observed classrooms in the U.K., and teach in the U.S. Our best ARE as good as their best. It's ALSO true that there's a wider RANGE - and that in America, we have concentrated graduates heavily at the ends. We have no "middle class" in education anymore - and that makes a huge difference. We have a huge lower class and a tiny upper class.

              I admit that you inspired some curiosity in me. I wondered about rankings for education. According to this research from the National Council on Education Statistics, 15-year-olds in America, when ranked in 41 countries, placed 28th on average. We rank slightly below average in math and science literacy, slightly further below average in problem solving, and slightly above average in reading literacy. More helpful is looking at the range. The top score is 1000. The range for reading literacy is 543 (finland)-375 (tunisia), for example, and the U.S. average score is 495. If we could also see the range for individual scores, I bet you that Finland would have quite a few students at the top, very few at the bottom, and a huge amount clustered in the middle. I bet America would have a bubble of students at the top, one at the bottom, and comparatively few students in the middle. (I've seen this spread before, and it gets me thinking about what's happening in our economy and how it gets reflected in so many little ways...) I'd be curious as to your htoughts.

              •  I find it interesting that India is nowhere in (0+ / 0-)

                chart?  I also think that the inclusion and comparison of some of these countries is a bit odd and perhaps distorts the averages.  I also think that perhaps the best way to keep this balanced is to base the comparisons on the average spend on education per child by country.  This makes the comparisons more about outcomes and makes it a more reasonable way to look at it.  Have you ever seen a chart for the U.S. that lays spend by state and these same scores?  

                •  I have seen a chart like that (0+ / 0-)

                  Our state (WA) is in the middle, but our class sizes are near Alabama's.

                  And the school district I assume your in (Lake Hills which is in Bellevue) has a much higher spend per student than other districts in our state. $7,765.52 per student average in Bellevue.

                  A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

                  by danmitch on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 07:27:03 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Obama really needs to put this together. I am (0+ / 0-)

                    sure the education picture would become crystal clear to anyone but the most dense.  I have been told California distributes education dollars more equitably and what parents in wealthy districts do is supplement with private fund raising.  

              •  Don't blame me for the low scores (0+ / 0-)

                I aced that test (/snark)

                It is a problem. But what is the solution? Don't tell me that getting rid of funding for the top learners is the right idea, you're meddling with my education there.

                A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

                by danmitch on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 07:23:09 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Starting with understanding what the minimum (0+ / 0-)

                  funding necessary to put everyone on par and then start adding funding based on additional needs.  I was always top in my class and additional funding had nothing to do with it.  There was a huge commitment to learning in my home(neither one of my parents every graduated high school).  My school district put together programs for top learners that pulled from across the city and it did not require that each school have it's own special programs.  You took AP courses at the local community college.  Top learners will find a way to keep moving forward, people at the bottom need more time and resources, that's just the way it works.  What is the old Irish quote....to those who much is given, much is expected.

                  •  good idea (0+ / 0-)

                    Actually, in Bellevue they do the same. Except they have the special programs in the schools. Stevenson, Odle, and Interlake (if you know where they are)

                    A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

                    by danmitch on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 07:53:07 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I lived in a bigger eastern city so they had more (0+ / 0-)

                      options.  The school district coordinated with major museums to offer special courses plus we had excellent public transportation so it worked quite well.

                      •  Sounds great (0+ / 0-)

                        Not like Bellevue, there's more culture in a cup of yogurt than in the entire "city" of Bellevue.

                        And don't get me started on transit. I have to plan 45 minutes to get to school on the bus. 10-15 when driving. And the buses only run 1X hour or 1/2 hour.

                        I hate the suburbs.

                        A volunteer with the Northwest Progressive Institute http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/

                        by danmitch on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 08:09:44 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I am afraid the entire area spends more on sports (0+ / 0-)

                          than on cultural programs, it's a major weakness of the entire Puget Sound area.  I think Portland does a better job on developing and supporting it's museums and cultural events than we do. I have to travel in order to get craving for museums filled. San Francisco's new De Young is amazing.  

        •  The longer school day is necessary for many (0+ / 0-)

          families but many other families don't want it (if we feel that time is  not constructively used in the schools).  I often feel I can do more for my children outside of school.  Its a difficult situation to be in.

          E. -6.38, S. -4.62 Move forward or fall back...your choice! Be well my animal babies.

          by JellyBearDemMom on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 04:52:54 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'm starting a 501(c)(3) called the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JellyBearDemMom

    Public Boarding School Trust.

    Is that the silver bullet?  No.  Is there any silver bullet?  Not to my knowledge.

    Can that make a small difference for a couple hundred kids?  Yes.

    That's all I've got.

    Faith in oneself is not trusting that you will always be victorious. It is trusting that you will either die or get back up.

    by Justashotaway on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 11:04:51 PM PST

  •  20 percent of kids is too many (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JellyBearDemMom

    because if they're having a tough time in kindergarten, they need our best support now, rather than hitting the wall later

  •  That scene is being replayed... (0+ / 0-)

    all over this Country.  And we wonder why so many children are not on track with their learning despite some truly heroic efforts by all involved in the schools.

    Every darned day, I pray and hope that things get better for all these children (and their families and teachers).

    It sometimes feels that noone's listening.  Tipped and recced.

    E. -6.38, S. -4.62 Move forward or fall back...your choice! Be well my animal babies.

    by JellyBearDemMom on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 04:48:11 AM PST

  •  From a letter to the editor of my local paper (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danmitch

    yesterday:

    "I am all for being generous, but when did it become the taxpayer's responsibility to provide lunch for school children? I believe God gave the responsibility to parents to feed, clothe, discipline and educate about sex the children God has entrusted to them. Just because our government thinks they can do a better job, and offers a willingness to parent our children for us, does not mean we should embrace it. Parents today have not only embraced it, they think they are entitled to it. Just because many parents shirk their responsibilities to educate their children about God's plan for a man and a woman does not give the school or government the authority to do it. Now we even have many schools introducing homosexuality as a legitimate alternative. They do not all include it in the classroom. Sometimes it is taught through student activities 'overseen' by the faculty."

    This is a letter from a senior pastor at a local Baptist church. It seems to me he is saying that feeding children free lunch at school is the same as teaching them homosexuality. Scary.

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