Failure of the American Educational System, Part 2
Welcome back, Welcome back to the place you used to be... (to the tune of "Welcome Back, Kotter). I have been over-worked for the last year and a half but I am back now. I hope to blog once a month as a minimum, no promises of course, just a goal I want to meet.
During the 2005-6 school year I was a teacher for the public schools in my city. During that year, I was what was known as a cadre. No, I was not cloned into a small army of educational experts (although clearly the higher-ups in the city's public school system never looked up the word "cadre" in the dictionary). I was a substitute teacher who was assigned to one school. As part of this deal I was paid more than a regular substitute and they guaranteed me work everyday. I should have realized for a pot this sweet there would be a catch. There was. The school which we shall call "C"was in an underserved part of town. (Wasn't I polite just now? ;-) ). Anyway, I wasn't worried about the neighborhood, nor was I concerned with working with "poor" children. When I had lived in California I worked at schools where the vast majority of the children were on the federal free lunch program and a number of them were the children of migrant farm workers. Labor that is so difficult and pays so little US citizens would rather collect welfare than work as migrant farm labor. It is only illegal immigrants who cannot get welfare that are willing to work under these conditions. But that is an issue for another post. This post is about the conditions at "C".
So here I am working as a substitute teacher but always in this one school. I get to know the kids since I am at the same school everyday and I get to know the families since I taught everything from Headstart to 8th grade at this school. Most of the classes had between 20 and 25 students. Good numbers for teachers. There is only one class of each grade. Except 6th grade, which had 41 students. Why 41 students? Well, for a couple of reasons. See, 6th graders can't pass into 7th grade unless they pass the district wide assessment (each district in this state can choose its own district wide assessment), which in this school district happens to be a standardized test. So, even if you get "A's" all year in school you can't go to 7th grade unless you pass the test. Kids who can't pass the test tend to bottle-neck in 6th grade. And good thing too, because we can't have kids going on to middle school who can't pass these sorts of tests, it will hurt them in the future, I hear you cry. And I might buy that argument if these kids actually got help in how to pass the tests , but of course they did not. Now don't get me wrong here, I do not think any of the 41 kids in the class had straight A's for the entire year and then flunked the test, but if they had they would have been held back and there were certainly kids who could have gone on to 7th grade based on their classroom grades and were held back because of test scores.
But the issue I really want to talk about is not why there were 41 kids in the classroom, but the fact that there were 41 kids in one classroom. Anyone who knows anything about schools can tell you that you can not teach 41 kids sitting in one classroom. There are just too many of them. The kids are too crowded; discipline can't be maintained. So why not split the class into a class of 20 and a class of 21? That would make sense now wouldn't it? Because the system doesn't allow for splitting classes into classes that small. The city public school department assigned teachers on the average size of the classroom for the school. Remember how I said that most of the other classes were 20-25 students, well that meant that on average the school had very small classes and no matter how hard the school's administration tried they could not get another teacher assigned to the building. In the end they got around such a stupid rule by claiming they needed a cadre and when all of the teachers were at school, I worked with the 6th grade teacher to help her maintain discipline enough so she could teach.
The forty-one students in the same classroom were so crowded (despite having the largest classroom in the building) that they probably could not have all exited in the event of a fire (God forbid!) safely. Mostly I can't get over the stupidity of the
bureaucracy that can't see 41 children in one classroom, but can only see the "average classroom population" in a building for the purpose of assigning teachers. This is exactly what is wrong with the American educational system, we spend too much time looking at averages and not enough time looking at individuals.
Your comments are welcome.