This will no doubt be couched in partisan terms as a conflict between those who support public education, and those who don’t — with Scott Walker cast on the “don’t” side:
If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has his way, the Badger State will become the first to stop requiring students in public schools to spend a minimum number of hours in class.
A proposal in Walker’s new budget plan calls for ending the state’s current minimum requirements — 437 hours for kindergarten, 1,050 hours for elementary schools and 1,137 hours for secondary schools — and allowing school districts to do what they want in terms of seat hours for students.
Districts and schools would then be judged on their state report cards, which are produced annually by the Department of Public Instruction, based largely on standardized test scores. During a recent visit to a school in Waukesha to talk up his budget proposal, he said: “To me, the report card is the ultimate measure. It’s not how many hours you are sitting in a chair.”…
But I’m a stalwart supporter of public schools, and I’m with Walker on this.
I’ll admit, though, that I’m extrapolating from my own experience as a student, and as Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary. Which as it happens is precisely why I’m taking Walker’s side.
Sure, there are students who need every hour of mandated instruction. And there are no doubt those who may need more hours to get the material.
But I think I — and a lot of other students — would have benefited from less time in the chair. Or more material. Less boredom, in other words.
Yes, I was — according to Walker’s standardized-test measurement — one of the “smart” kids, generally in the 99th percentile or thereabouts. But I wasn’t alone. And how did it benefit me to sit there all those extra hours after I had absorbed the lesson, daydreaming or reading ahead in the book just to have something to do — so that if I was called on I answered, “Huh?” because I had left the subject at hand some time before.
For me, the school year was WAY too long — unless you were going to teach me more — and too much time was spent reviewing, or in repetitive exercises (homework) meant to drive home lessons that I had fully taken in at the outset, and was ready to move beyond.
But forget me. How do we know that every student would benefit from precisely X number of instructional hours? We don’t. Because a) every kid will be different, and b) there are plenty of variables other than time that I think probably bear more meaningfully on whether a child learns or not.
No, I haven’t backed this up with double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. I’m just going by common sense. I think the minimum-hours or minimum-days rules are yet another vain attempt to quantify, and codify, the unquantifiable. Anyone have any arguments that blow that out of the water?
The Greenville County Schools website explains that in South Carolina:
So basically, if you’ve been absent nine times, you’d better get busy on that computer, Ferris.
Here’s what I propose. Instead of “To receive credit, students must attend at least 170 days of each 180-day year course, as well as meet the minimum requirements for each course,” why don’t we just say, “To receive credit, students must meet the minimum requirements for each course?”
Isn’t that the point?
You could have quit school, taken the GED and everyone would be happy.
meeting the “minimum requirements” for each course works for me. That way, those who don’t need the extra time can do something else (more advanced on line work in that subject or others of her choice?) while those who do need more time can have more teacher attention devoted to them.
That’s two of us!
We’ve got a movement going…
I’ve long advocated competency-based course credit for most high school courses as opposed to “seat time” requirements. There are a number of gains for many students including acceleration for the more advanced, extended time vs failure for those who struggle, and encouragement to review and retain all course material when faced with an “exit exam.” There are also a number of problematic outcomes for students who are exempted from class attendance.
Some can handle it; some can’t – but of course many can convince their parents that they can.
Many students, with parental enabling, cut school or class and do not handle the time well.
Schools are expected or required to account for students’ whereabouts and behavior during school hours.
Many states base school funding on attendance or membership numbers.
Testing mastery of content and skills is neither as valid nor reliable as test-makers claim.
Schools provide more than content; they provide training in interpersonal skills and self-discipline.
Our society is way far along in “bowling alone” when it comes to our social and communication attributes.
Overall, legislatures are lousy at making school policy. A school’s report card has no real relevance in assessing the true value added in one or more student’s experience there. In trying to set minimums, (seat time, exit exams, testing requirements, course requirements) state education law often installs a low ceiling for many capable students. They often must limit developing their talents because of busyness documenting stuff they mastered way ahead of their peers.
Many parents and students want a loose menu approach to their school and higher-ed experience – no dull core courses, just what they desire to take. Why learn stuff you don’t find useful or interesting? My view is that this is a key reason many young adults can’t balance a budget (if they have one), understand government, appreciate music and art, interpret history, evaluate propaganda, understand human behavior, rear children, or become good neighbors. We’ve moved far toward becoming a society filled with technically-skilled, personally-inept and socially-confused adults.
Add to that the devastation of the school community’s ability to problem solve and destruction of K-12 educators’ morale by the “accountability” movement and its test-driven atmosphere. States have pushed them to teach with one eye on the scoreboard (test scores) and the other on the testing standards (content) and no eye on the ball (the students).
As one can likely tell, I’m disgusted with simplistic legislated solutions to hard problems. Those, and their “reformer” companions, are much like the blind men and the elephant that is more complicated and difficult to understand than they can grasp. The other news to them is that it requires heavier lifting to move that creature than they imagine.
How would you monitor and administer 20 different lesson plans for 20 different students in a class?
I could have cared less about English class, history classes, and anything that related to a social science. Give me the science classroom and lab, the math classroom and the gym and high school would have been perfect. Four years of English class with a workbook that was identical except for the color of the cover was brutal.
And of course, I am the opposite.
I was good at the math; I just didn’t LIKE it. One of the greatest things about college was that I got to test out of foreign languages (from having lived in Ecuador as a kid) and math.
So I got to take LOTS of history, political science and English electives. In fact, I took so many in history that I ended up with enough hours for a second major in it (first major was journalism, which is not, let’s face it, an academic subject; it’s a trade for literate people).
They wouldn’t let me skip out on science, though, and I hustled to get those three semesters of it in my last year at Memphis State. I took geology, and that was fun, identifying rocks and such. (Just last week, I heard someone remark on a “nice piece of granite,” and I muttered, “Hmm, potassium feldspar“…)
How did I get the other two? Like this: I went to the head of the physics department and asked if I could just take the exam for the two semesters of football physics. (Basically, I was asking for what Scott Walker is suggesting — judge me by what I know, not on time spent sitting in a classroom.) He got all huffy and said no, I could not. He said that if I took the first semester, and got an A in it, he’d let me take the test for the second.
So I took it. Boy, that was an experience. It was essentially the same as 9th grade physical science, amazingly dumbed-down. I still remember the time the teacher was talking ballistics, and he said that a cannonball fired perpendicular to the ground would strike the ground at the same time as an identical cannonball dropped from the same height — and this large fellow in the back of the stadium-seating classroom cried out, “No WAY!”
But I sat through it. And I got an A in it. Then I got the textbook for the second semester, skimmed through it over a weekend, and took the exam for the second semester, and aced that, too (as I recall — at least, it makes a good story this way).
It’s really stupid for a university to offer such courses….
This, of course, explains a good bit about the differences in the way Richard and I view the world.
I have the same sorts of debates with Doug…
Public school is good at turning mediocre students into mediocre adults. It falls everyone else.
There’s another problem as well. As schools have individualized course materials, teaching methodologies, and student choices, we’ve lost our common culture, and doing so we’ve lost our common ethical assumptions. That makes it difficult to debate our differing stances because we have no common ground. We may use the same words, but mean very different concepts. That in turn causes us to believe that the other person is trying to deceive us. I’m not sure what the answer is, but if we don’t do something to standardize our culture, we’ll no longer have one. And if we have no common culture, we’ll quickly have no country.
Your thoughts seem in line with my contention that we’ve lost a great deal of our sense of community. I’m not sure that a competency-based utilitarian education allows development of the skills and understandings necessary to even appreciate any culture – common, diverse, or blended. Moral assumptions aside, I don’t even think there’s an easy path to a broad, open education when education is viewed in such utilitarian, and frankly, materialistic fashion as it is today in our country. I’m leery of standardized culture, but I don’t think school programs that de-emphasize learning in social settings is a help in understanding common or divergent cultural elements.
I do, however want to see study, field testing, and deeply thought-out attempts to address the problems of boiler-plate requirements – including seat time. Testing alone certainly isn’t a good answer.
Home schooling destroys this sense of community.
What percentage of students are home schooled? I’m guess less than 10%. But I see the parent’s point, since some of these home schoolers live in school districts that prepare students for a life of welfare, drugs, and crime. There are public schools in Columbia that I would never consider sending my children to.
But is fostering a “sense of community” the core job of schools and educators?
I dunno about “core” job but seems important. Although the argument against government indoctrination has some merit.
Actually, to a certain extent it is. It’s about preparing people to be functional members of society, and part of that is learning to interact constructively with other people….
Sure, there’s a socialization aspect to school that you can’t get if you’re a home-schooled kid. There’s definitely something that would be missing from my life if I hadn’t gone to school and made friends with lots of people. For some reason, making friends with someone when you’re young really sticks with you and it’s a strong bond.
However, school isn’t a child’s only opportunity for socialization. There’s team sports, church, neighborhood peers, etc. However, I do acknowledge that school is a biggie.
But it’s not really something that the school “teaches”. It’s sort of a by-product, if you will. The socialization and learning to interact comes more from your peers than the teacher, wouldn’t you agree?
I believe if you live in a school district and are home schooled that you are still eligible to participate in your district’s extra curricular activities (sports, music, theater, etc…).
I envy you this: “making friends with someone when you’re young really sticks with you and it’s a strong bond…”
As a Navy brat, I didn’t have that. I got a new group of friends each year, and never saw the old ones again. It was OK until junior high and high school; then it was harder to make the adjustments.
This may be why I’m more of an idea person than a people person. Ideas are constants. I learned early on that except for family, people come and go…
And no, that doesn’t make me a psychopath. I like people well enough. I especially like the IDEA of people. 🙂
But maybe that’s why, during my brief career as a reporter, I didn’t much like working a beat — where you had to get to know everybody and build relationships. I preferred to go somewhere where I knew no one, figuring out what was going on, and write about what I encountered.
I’m not alone in that. I was talking the other day with Jeff Wilkinson from The State, and he’s the same way, which is one reason why you’ll see him writing about so many different topics…
I’ve known a lot of you here on the blog MUCH longer than I knew anyone growing up, other than family…
As a person long involved and associated with schools, I advocated for some unconventional policies in public schooling. It is still my view that the chief goal of public schools is to produce good citizens. I contend that the social studies should be the center of the curriculum, and that students should learn facts about history, government, human behavior, cultural values, and should develop the tools to understand and evaluate them. They should be held accountable for good citizenship and behavior as students. The tools of mathematics, sciences, communication, healthy living, and the arts are all needed to make a living, live a good life, and be a good citizen.
Our curricula are terribly skewed toward testing well at required minimums in utilitarian subjects in part because accountability laws and policies (which haven’t worked) have pushed schools to orient what they do around making the school look good on mandated state measures, mainly tests.
I still argue (against the wind) for all high school students to take a mandatory scientifically-based course on human development and child rearing – often called “parenting.” They are now required to all take the equivalent of algebra 1, which only a portion of them will actually use later, while most of them will need to raise children, often with little understanding of best ways to do it, and, unfortunately, too often with little understanding of the importance of the dedication needed to do it well.
Governor Walker gives us another example of a public figure able to point toward a problem he inadequately understands, and then promote a simplistic or often wrong solution.
Harry for Sec of Education!
Good points Harry! When I was in high school, a math course was offered that taught how to use a checkbook, how to balance a budget, and math that is used by the average person almost every day. In other words, math for everyday living. During my high school years, another course was taught, Home Economics. The only problem is that most of the students taking the class were female and if a male took the class, you can imagine the comments from other students directed toward him. The class was actually a very good one and it would have been great if the school administration had encouraged more males to take it so they would be prepared for life after high school or college living on their own.
We do need more life preparatory classes for students when we consider the different social and economic times of today vs. 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago. When parents don’t spend time preparing their children to face leaving the nest, some simply do not know how to fly alone and when they try, they come crashing down. My parents prepared me for most of life’s obstacles and believe me, it was and is still much appreciated. Unfortunately, all too many parents don’t prepare their children, preferring to leave it up to teachers to do their work for them.
Thanks for your contributions to our young people in your charge. I am sure that down the road, they will come to appreciate what you have done and probably still do for them.
Funny you should mention the “down the road” stuff. I left teaching 6th and 7th graders in 1974, but I tell people I’m still getting paid for teaching I did in the 1970’s. Former students come up to me in town, anxious for me to see how they are doing, introduce me to their children, and ask the “do you remember…” stuff. It doesn’t pay bills, but believe me, its the best pay you can imagine. I wish other people could get more of that feedback from their jobs.
“It is still my view that the chief goal of public schools is to produce good citizens.”
Absolutely, Harry. There’s nothing more important.
If schools had been doing their job on that the last few decades, we wouldn’t have “President Trump.”
I think we’d have less crime, less polarization, and fewer people getting scammed, and way less social strife. Schools really don’t control the direction they have been pushed into. Few educators I know, teachers or administrators would have chosen the narrow, utilitarian path we’re on. A few, who I think are mainly interested in their own careers and finances might, but most want a collaborative atmosphere that develops the whole student. The policy-makers (lawmakers and school boards) have to set the direction, but I know few with any real vision that goes beyond short-term measurables and economic utilitarian views of the value of schools.
I asked some home-schooled kids about socialization, and they said they get together with other homeschooled kids once a month on a field trip. Otherwise, no contact with peers.
I’ve been on Spring Break and missed this conversation. I’ll just throw in my two cents and then some.
First, on the original post–the schools actually do a pretty good job of doing what they were originally designed to do: create a relatively literate work force for an agrarian/manufacturing economy while also developing citizens with a shared set of values and removing large numbers of children from the workforce where they competed with adults for jobs. Our economy is now more knowledge/service based, and changes should be made to the system.
There’s less need to teach kids those things you can look up by asking Google. More important is teaching them the skills needed to evaluate the source of the information they seek in order to identify bias and dishonesty. There’s a need to teach students to collaborate, because jobs now require it–workers don’t work in isolation on a factory floor, but in teams. Just go back and read any of Brad’s descriptions of how the editorials at The State are written to see what I mean. We talk now about the 4 Cs (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication) rather than the 3 Rs. The job market is changing so quickly that the jobs many young people will have don’t even exist now. (My current position didn’t exist when I began teaching in 1990.) The big push now is toward personalized learning–the way most of us learn about the tings we care about or really need. It’s a big ship we’re trying to turn, though.
There’s another change that’s overdue–there’s no need to take two and a half months off in the summer any more. That’s a artifact of an agrarian culture (and frankly, lack of AC). The 180-day year should be expanded to 220 at a minimum. (Won’t ever happen in SC. Teachers are paid for a 190-day contract. There’s no way this state will fund their salaries for an addition 30 or 40 days.)
So yes, I agree that the number of hours/days a student attends a class is less important than what he or she learns in the class. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should have fewer days or hours in class. It just means the time may be used differently. After an initial few years of teaching literacy in reading, writing, arithmetic, much of the rest of a child’s education should be about developing skills, exploring career possibilities, solving authentic problems, and civics. However, to do those things, you need some of those core literature, math, science, and cultural classes to broaden the mind. I support life skills classes like Harry suggests above.
Except for a test or two that gives immediate, formative data, most standardized testing is a waste of time and an unwelcome stress for student, teachers and parents. The sooner we quit using scores as a measure of success, the better.
I have family members who have home schooled their children for religious reasons, and the greatest issue I see with those children is their complete denial of anything based on science that challenges their literal interpretation of the Bible. It led to one of them being unable to succeed in a community college biology course and therefore dropping out. I’ve had kids enter my class after years of homeschooling, and they learn to socialize fairly quickly. My other issue with homeschooling is the lack of progress I see many students making. One of my nieces didn’t finish until she was 21. The other, almost 19, is still a sophomore and not completing any coursework right now.
Here’s the greatest short-term concern for schools: teacher shortages. Between the push for testing, the lack of time for planning, class size, a near-static pay scale that grows smaller relative to other professions, and–as was done in this thread–blaming the schools for breakdowns in society, it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain good teachers.
For me, this is ironic:
The weird thing is, since I was laid off, I have utterly failed to find a job doing those very things — which happen to be the things I’m best at, and the skills that took me longest to master.
From the moment I left The State, prospective employers have thought of me in terms of writing and editing. No matter what I tell them, that’s all they think of. Which means they think of me in terms of skills I had fully mastered in my early 20s.
The far more important, harder-to-learn skills that reflect the lion’s share of my job later in my career — leading a team of smart, creative people, reaching consensus quickly on complex, controversial issues and deciding on a course of action — don’t even get considered.
Part of the problem, of course, is that there’s no such job as that in this area (and I decided when I left the paper I wasn’t going to leave my children and grandchildren behind) IN THAT FIELD. And what I’m describing is a senior executive function. And people in OTHER fields that I’ve never worked in were not particularly interested in starting me off at the top, understandably….
You stated your own limitation – being unwilling to move due to your desire to remain close to your family. In an area like Columbia, that severely limits your options. So while that is admirable from a personal standpoint, I’d be interested in which industries that are local that you were looking at. This area is pretty much limited to hospitals, banks, USC, or state government if you limit yourself to a 30 minute driving radius.
So it comes down to choices.
That’s a failure on their part to recognize what a veteran worker can bring to an institution.
There was a program in our district a few years before I arrived–late 80s is my understanding–in which the district would place teachers with area employers during the summer so they could gain an understanding of what was necessary for students to be successful in the real world. The program was discontinued because so many of the employers asked the teacher summer help to stay on. The skills they had developed as teachers turned out to be very useful to the employers.
“That’s a failure on their part to recognize what a veteran worker can bring to an institution.”
But put yourself in the position of a hiring manager – let’s say a person who spent his career as a teacher wanted to become a project manager at a hospital or bank. Without specific industry experience, how would that candidate distinguish himself over someone with 20 years of background in that industry. I’ll use Brad’s example of why he prefers experienced politicians – how long would a company be able to allow a person at that level to learn on the job?
It’s no different for me in the technology field. There are things I can do and things I can’t do. If I went for a job as a project manager on a technology I had no experience with, my chances of getting that job would be slim no matter how well I have done in my current area. But I do have an advantage over others in that I have a very diverse background working for a variety of industries and have been willing to travel out of state 3-4 nights a week for the past 30 years to gain that experience. My resume looks a lot better than someone who worked for one company for 20 years, moving up the ladder.
“The 180-day year should be expanded to 220 at a minimum.”
I’d never support this as a voter. How is it that most of us adults were able to become productive members of society with only 180 days? Based on my experience as a public school student and parent of three kids, I’d estimate 25% of the time had/has little value anyway.
Are you guaranteeing a measurable difference in our society if we add 760 days of instruction to the K-12 curriculum? For those in the upper 10-20% of IQ, what else are they going to get?
Now if you want to have mandatory summer school for those students who test below grade level in English and Math, I’m fine with that. But for everyone else, there are better things to do than sit in a classroom.
I’d rather see more vocational high schools like the one I attended in Massachusetts. One year of trying our a half dozen different “shops” then three years of intensive training on a chosen field – with every other week spent entirely in the shop and then during “academic” weeks having two English, two math, one science, and one social studies class per day plus one elective (language, P.E., etc.). Senior year, starting in November, two students in a shop with a B average or above would swap weeks working a co-op job instead of going to school. And then by April, we were able to go fulltime to the job instead of class. My senior year was tough once I started working the co-op job: worked from 6:30 to 2:30 with a 15 minute break for lunch, drove back to my high school for basketball or track practice until 5:30 or later if we had games/meets. Did that from November until May.
That’s because you’re still thinking of the model of what school was when you were in school–and as it still is in many ways. It’s time to change the model. Much of that additional time could be spent focusing on career possibilities and developing strengths and interests, not just more seat time doing the same old stuff. It would allow more time for those vocational classes you advocate. Those with higher IQs could use the additional time to pursue further academic studies or to explore vocational opportunities–the same as everyone else. It’s their interest that would drive their personalized curriculum, not their IQ.
I don’t know how you would measure a change in society. Some things just can’t be measured.
Most of what I learned that was important was either through my own self-study and personal experiences.
The model doesn’t need to be changed… it already has changed in the past three decades – for the worse. Discipline is worse, trying to appease demanding parents has gone overboard – the whole concept of IEPs is unmanageable. Testing wasn’t around before like it is now. We have any number of magnet programs that didn’t exist before. Technology was supposed to be some grand solution and it has been a major boondoggle with very little to show for the expense.
Let’s start with fixing those things first. Demand discipline, stop testing, stop treating schools like Burger Kings where you can have it your way. Get back to fundamentals. We don’t need more hours in class, we need more productive hours in class.
Speaking of being prepared for work in the modern world…
I’m like a zombie today because I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. Mostly this was because of the weather. It was too warm for heat and too cool for air-conditioning, and I just could not get comfortable. I should have opened a window, but didn’t have the presence of mind.
So I must have waked up dozens of times, and it was always from stressful dreams. The two I remember…
This one was earlier and the details are dimmer. But apparently in this dream I was kind of a shady character. In fact, I was… a LAWYER! And I was pretty successful at it, even though I really didn’t have the facts on my side. Everything I tried to do, I was successful at it, but my success depended on pulling the wool over people’s eyes and convincing them of things that weren’t so. I was hyperconfident, but my conscience was working on me, and I felt bad about the fact that I could seemingly win at anything and everything I attempted. (I don’t remember exactly what I was doing — whether handling a lawsuit or dealing in public policy — say, lobbying for a bill. But whatever it was, if I said “A equals B,” everybody believed it. In fact, it was almost as though just by asserting it, I actually caused A to be B.) I also had this feeling it was all bound to collapse and I’d get caught, but that didn’t happen. I was winning, but it was not pleasant…
The second one I remember was more in the “it’s the end of semester and you’ve never been to the class” dream mold.
In the dream, I went to meet an ADCO client. Weirdly, the client was Lambuth College, a college in Jackson, TN, that doesn’t exist by that name any more. We used to live a block away from it back in the late 70s. Anyway, I was meeting with this client, a woman who was an administrator at the college, and she seemed to expect a presentation, and I not only had no presentation, I could not remember what in the world we had contracted to do for the client. Eventually, I was so desperate I said, “Excuse me,” and ran back to the office to see if I could find something on my desk that would remind me of what we were supposed to be doing. The client looked daggers at me as I left, and I knew she would not still be there waiting when I came back…
So, not a restful night…
That second dream was hardly worth mentioning, since I’ve had variations of it ever since college — if not before. And yes, it usually takes the form of it’s exam time, and I’ve never been to the class, and I don’t know where it is, and I don’t feel like I can ask anybody since they’ll think I’m crazy…
I think the updated client-meeting version at least shows a little creativity on my part…
” But apparently in this dream I was kind of a shady character. In fact, I was… a LAWYER! ”
Isn’t that sort of redundant?
“Better Call Brad?”
While there are many educators who would resist breaking the inertia of the present system, rightly described as old-economy tailored, many are willing to move the targets and the approaches. I know many who are so used to “retraining” based on this year’s new thing that a major re-tooling isn’t so scary. Boatloads of teachers are wondering what geniuses (mostly legislators) decided to impose a system on schools that encourages them to avoid being eaten by the bear threatening them by outrunning their peers. Overwhelmingly supported by research and experience is a collaborative environment emphasizing teachers who both teach and problem-solve with students’ needs at the center and multiple means of parent contact utilized. Faculty collaboration in problem-solving has been shown to be a morale booster. Worker morale is the most consistent outcome-determining factor in productivity in any endeavor. The far-removed policy makers seem to always mandate short-term, supposedly measurable results – and pretty consistently kill morale.