Lately, I've found most of the comic relief I need in my day in the morning newspapers when reading about the next big thing that will solve the problems with New York state's public schools.
Recently, another big joke came my way out of the New York State Education Department.
New York's high school students could soon face a new challenge before they earn their diplomas: a 1,250-word research paper. That is the new proposal by the state Education Department to better prepare New York's students for life after high school.
The Board of Regents recently considered the proposal, which could apply to students entering high school as freshmen in the 2013-14 school year. State Education Commissioner John King indicated the paper would be five pages long with a minimum of four resources. He did not go any further at that time, but I wonder if the commissioner also will dictate the font size, style manual and margins of the paper that will ensure all New York state graduates are now ready for college or the workforce. This is one more glaring example of an unfunded mandate that will cause more problems for schools and which will result in nothing. I wonder who is going to read all of those term papers. Maybe the Commissioner and other state education department employees could do so on weekends.
The proposal is part of King's goal to raise the dismal percentage of New York high school graduates - 35 percent - the state considers ready for college or a career. The state (whoever that is) says 65 percent of the high school graduates in New York state are not ready for a career or college. Well, I have a news flash for the state: a lot more than 35 out of 100 of those kids are going off to college every fall, and it appears they are doing so at a very high cost to the taxpayers of this fair state. The State University of New York reports that it spends $70 million annually on remedial education for students not ready for college-level work. My question is two-fold: Why are we wasting tens of millions of dollars on students who do not even belong in a college, and furthermore who the heck is letting them all in? College admissions experts have access to SAT scores, ACT scores, IQ scores, high school transcripts, letters of reference from teachers and other school personnel, and they also can demand to personally interview prospective students prior to accepting them. All of this information, and they are still allowing students to enter their establishments of higher learning who require $70 million per year of remediation. Who is the slow learner here?
Obviously, the answers do not lie a term paper.
By the way, I taught high school English for 14 years and my sophomores did a lot more rigorous writing than the commissioner is recommending. You could just imagine what I did to the seniors. I also am sure my colleagues teaching today are requiring much more lofty work than is outlined in this foolish plan.
Blame gets us nowhere either. A wise person once taught me that when you point a finger at someone else, you are pointing two back at yourself. The college personnel who are blaming the high schools for their failures might take pause and remember that the public school teachers they say are failing their students are their very own graduates. I wonder if the people they put out are ready for the work force?
The answers to improving student performance do not lie in the colleges or high schools of a state or nation. The schools and colleges are just players in the game. They are joined in the game by the students they teach and the families that support those students who appear to be getting a free ride in all of this. Until we get everyone in the game, we will continue trying to solve a problem that we cannot solve. Schools cannot educate students in a vacuum. The process begins at birth, long before entrance into school.
It is time to stop painting our public schools and their teachers with a black brush. The criticism is simply not warranted. Our public school teachers do a much better job than they are credited with on a daily basis. Trust me, I have seen it.
We need to take the steps necessary to be sure that every student in New York state is ready for school when they enter. If we do that, they will be much better prepared when they exit. Here is a thought: why not use that $70 million colleges are wasting annually on remediation to fund full day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs for every school district in New York state?
That will do a lot more than assigning a term paper to high school kids - just a thought.
John Metallo, a resident of Slingerlands, is a retired teacher and administrator.