[Updated May 14 to add a reply from the superintendent and a comment from a math teacher]
By Laurie H. Rogers
People have said to me: “Laurie, you sure seem upset about education. Your articles are angry.”
Well, yes, some of them are. My anger springs from a deep well. When you see the deceit in the education establishment, the lies, the arrogance, the selfishness and self-serving behavior, when you realize how our children are being betrayed, when you hear sad and shocking stories from parents, students and teachers, and you fully understand how lacking our children are in math and grammar, when you realize that our children are “graduating” without the skills they need to be successful in their postsecondary lives, when you realize that good teachers are at risk of being fired for “ineffectiveness,” when you go to meetings and hear well-paid administrators dismiss the relevance of a 38.9% student pass rate as they ask taxpayers for more money …
One does get angry.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat with a high school junior – a bright, articulate young lady. A friend of mine suggested I meet with her. On Monday, she and I talked for an hour before she went to work. This student has a dream. She wants to someday own her own business and be her own boss. Listening to her talk, you can see her doing that. You can see her running things, making a difference, being a voice of concern and compassion in her community. As I listened to her, my heart went out to her, and yes, I became angry on her behalf.
This student is having trouble in her pre-calculus class, and she didn’t understand why. She’s always gotten As in her math classes. She carries a 3.6 overall average. She passed all of the math tests given to her and always felt confident about her abilities in math. Up until this year.
This year, the pedal has hit the metal, and she must actually use her math skills for this pre-calc math class. She was startled to discover that she doesn’t have much in the way of procedural skill.
“You should know all of this,” her pre-calc teacher tells the class. His comments confuse her. She always learned what she was told to learn. All indications to her through grades and testing were that she was successfully learning it. Somehow, she got to her pre-calc class without proficiency in skills like long division, multiplication facts, radicals, fractions, negative exponents, the number line, algebra, or proper math vocabulary.
Hearing her teacher say, “You should know all of this,” makes her feel stupid, the student says. It makes her feel unmotivated, and it worries her. The teacher is trying to stuff K-10 math skills into his students while he also tries to get through the pre-calc material. The class struggles to manage. They depend heavily on their counselors, nearly all of whom recently received layoff notices from the district.
The student told me how much her counselor means to her. “[The counselor] keeps me motivated,” she said, adding that she and her classmates were devastated to hear of the layoffs. Meanwhile, they struggle to pass a math class that demands they have skills no one has taught them.
The student fretted about the impact this math class will have on her GPA, which she has fought hard to maintain. She’s a good student, she says, and she hates not doing well. “I don’t care whether they’re right or wrong [about math],” she said. “I just want to go to college. Why wouldn’t they teach us these things?”
Although this student is thoughtful and articulate, she also knows next to nothing in terms of grammar. She couldn’t define for me a preposition, participle or adverb. When she applies to go to college in just more than a year, she will almost certainly test into a low level of remedial math AND into remedial English. These will all be non-credit-bearing classes, and she will have to pay for them.
Two hours after talking with the student, I went to the last meeting for the year for Spokane Public Schools’ Citizens Advisory Committee, where I listened to the superintendent and various administrators talk about cutting money from district programs. One potential source of cuts, they said, are the counselors – those people that the student and her classmates depend on for support and motivation. Another potential area is curriculum improvements.
The administrators talked about various kinds of expenditures. They talked about cutting $54 million since 2002. And yet, the budget has increased substantially over that time. What’s up with that, I asked them. As it was explained to me last night, it’s a money shift. They “cut” programs in one bucket of expenditures, shifting the money elsewhere to a different bucket of expenditures. Therefore, the budget isn’t really “cut” in terms of overall dollars – the money is just spent differently. That’s why the district can cut teachers and counselors, while adding legislated distractions (and giving themselves raises and better benefits, apparently).
At the bottom of this shell game, are the students who don’t have the curriculum or the instruction they need. Why are they in this position? How is it that the community must fight district administrators on behalf of academics? Why do administrators keep getting raises as our students keep failing? How is it that we’ve handed over our wallets to people who obstinately refuse to provide our children with the academic skills they need? How did we get to this ridiculous place? More important, how do we get out of here?
[Added May 14: A math teacher who is a friend of mine told me that, of 60 pre-calculus students in his district (another large district that does reform math), NONE could pass an 8th-grade algebra assessment that was purely basic algebra procedures. Most had 3.6 and above GPAs. The story is equally sad in reform districts across the state.]
It seems that we’re going to have to help these students ourselves. They’re staring at a bleak future. They need help now, right now. There isn’t a moment to lose. The junior I spoke with must pick up at least six years of math skills in just over a year. It isn’t good enough to help her and her classmates with homework. It isn’t enough to sit down with them a day a week or even two days a week. It isn’t enough to just show them the math skills – they must learn them to mastery. They must go back to somewhere around fourth grade and pick up the skills the district administration refused to give them.
Despite all of its bleating for community help, the district appears disinclined to accommodate this tutoring in basic math and basic grammar. I’ve asked repeatedly to be allowed to begin free tutoring programs in math at various schools, including the school my daughter's at now. I’ve been turned down repeatedly, or had impossible restrictions placed on me. Now, I’m not even getting the courtesy of a reply from the superintendent. [Updated May 14: The superintendent replied today. She said no.]
We will have to find a different way to get this done.
I’m looking for a few good people to help get these kids the math and grammar skills they need. If you’re interested in tutoring, or in financially or practically supporting this tutoring, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Provide your name, contact information, and what you’re willing to do. You can help anonymously, if need be.
We’ll need textbooks (I can buy them secondhand locally and online), paper, pencils, erasers, and most of all, a place to tutor (church, community center, etc.).
Folks, please get angry about where these students are. Then, turn that anger into action. We can’t save 28,000 students. But, working together, we can help save some of them. We also can work on systemic change and on properly informing the community. Together, we can turn things around for our children and grandchildren and help them earn the future they envision.
Thank you all for caring, and while you’re up, perhaps you could ask the Spokane school board to stop the district superintendent’s contract from automatically rolling over this month.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is
Rogers, L. (May 2011). "Tutoring desperately needed; please help us." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/