Rhonda and I continue to lean toward taking on the difficult task of homeschooling. There are a thousand different little reasons why. Once you start looking for reasons, you see them everywhere and everyday in the kids’ schooling. But as I see it there’s just really one fundamental reason why my kids don’t below in school: it’s the way we define the notion of a democratic education. Now when I say this, it’s not meant as a criticism of teachers or school systems or anything else necessarily. All that I am trying to say, quite simply, is that schools are obviously not designed to teach kids like my kids. It’s nobody’s fault, and if it is somebody’s fault, I don’t care whose fault it is. We can work to change it if we want, but I know that whatever changes might come won’t come in time to help my kids, so when it comes to thinking about their education, I’ve got to approach that challenge differently.
But let me be a little more clear about what I mean.
My daughter is in third grade. In NY state, third grades take language arts and math exams. In 2007 87% of third graders in her school met or exceeded state standards for language arts and 91% did so for math. The statewide averages are 67% for ELA and 85% for math. So in an average third grade class of 25 students 2-3 students will not pass each test. So that means there are probably 4-5 students not passing one of the tests.
I’m imagining the bell curve of performance works out something like this then.
- 4-5 students not passing at least one test
- 4-5 students who are at risk of not passing without the test-focused education they receive.
- 8-9 students who might not pass the tests if they took them in October of third grade but aren’t really in any danger of not passing.
- 4-5 students who could pass the third grade test in October.
- 1-2 students who could pass the fourth or fifth grade tests in October of third grade.
Our educational system focuses on the bottom third of student performers and the result is that half of them pass both tests rather than having only a quarter or third of them pass. That said, statewide there are more challenges. The explicit goal of the system is to get every student to pass these tests. Quite honestly though, you’d have to do something drastic, like locking my kids in the basement, to prevent them from being able to pass these tests. In any case though, my rough estimate is that 10-15% of all students are having their time completely wasted in school. That includes my kids.
It seems to me that you could do this different. There are 350-400 kids in every grade in our school district. You could take the top 10% and put them into two classes. Obviously though this would create some ill will, especially if your kid fell just outside the top 10% or wherever the line was drawn. We might also say that it wasn’t democratic, that every kid should receive the same education, unless they have demonstrated special need of some sort–even then the trend increasingly is toward mainstreaming.
I understand the values behind that approach. I also understand that the result is a complete waste of time for my kids. So if you were like me, you sat in class with your finger on the sentence you knew you’d be asked to read once the class got around to your turn. You’d never do your math homework because you could work out the problems on the board faster than most kids could copy theirs of their homework papers. And I don’t think I’m anything that special. I’m sure there were many, many kids like me.
My wife and I are fortunate that as academics our schedules are flexible. We can be around to supervise our kids while they learn. We have the summer and winter breaks. So we’ll just have to see what happens.