Monday, October 25, 2010

Stop Waiting for Superman

I had a draft of this post in the works a few weeks ago, and lo and behold the day before I was going to finish it up, there was an absolutely, amazingly, excellent article in the new issue of the New Your Review of Books. Read this now. Diane Ravitch tears Davis Guggenheim and Waiting For Superman four or five new orifices. It's better than anything I'll contribute below, but my thoughts actually follows on nicely from Ravitch's discussion of teachers and charter schools.

The unspoken elephant in the room for education reform is that a lot of people know who the real culprit for underachieving kids is but can't do anything about it. And those culprits are the parents. But I want to propose that we can do something about the parents, a carrot and stick system that would work better than firing "bad" teachers or even paying kids for bad grades. Give tax refunds, or additional charges for parents who are basically making it impossible for teachers to do their job.

We should be paying and fining parents for their childrens' homework completion and for their childrens' behavior in class. We need to make it clear that a child who hasn't been read to, or a child who isn't being help to complete their homework, or a child who keeps acting out in class is in large part a problem of the parent. If a child gets to fifth grade and can't read, how the hell do we blame the teacher for that? If the kid goes up two grade levels then that teacher should get a medal.

But what about parents working two jobs, or immigrant families, isn't this kind of harsh? Well, yeah, that's rough, but letting your kid fail is a hundred times rougher. America in 2010 seems to be a land without tough love. Instead we have a lot of papering and negligence, not just in families but everywhere in government, in businesses and everywhere in between. But things need to start in the home, and at this point families need some tough love to make sure that they're giving that tough love themselves.


Brett said...

Not to raise the horrible specter of SOCIALISM, but maybe a more effective and less unenforceable way of improving parent-education performance than taxes would be to provide paid home-education training to new parents. In other words, you have your first child, you get courses teaching you about how important it is to read to your child, how to recognize and play to your child's learning method, about being responsible for your child's welfare. Heck, throw in some schooling on proper nutrition, bullying, saving and finance for your child, and the many paths available for your child through life (not just college).

That's a problematic idea for a lot of reasons, of course, but a good thought exercise if nothing else - i.e, why do we treat parenting, of all things, like something that parents are just supposed to know how to do automatically (when clearly plenty do not)?

Cody G. said...

Subjects like this always make me think of my Spanish teacher, senior year of high school. Didn't change his clothes, always had a ragged look about him as if he'd crawled out of a sewer, he was never clean, his trailer smelled. And on top of that, he didn't teach at all. His version of teaching was making us read something in Spanish, and then translate it into English, but he failed to understand that we need to be taught Spanish words in order to know what they mean, or perhaps I could try my hand at converting French manuscript into English by myself instead? He must have gotten complaints every day from at least half the class, yet he never changed. He didn't dish out grades, only gave us an overall grade that we, and I quote, "looked like we should get". Yes, grades based on appearance. Is that legal? He also was incapable of telling honest work from plagiarism, something everyone eventually resorted to. Why bother trying to learn if he's not going to bother trying to teach? I mean, I was probably the last one to actually stop trying to understand, and I've always gotten As in Spanish. Yet he gave me a B because I looked like a B student, and refused to change it when I called him out on his bogus claim.

Angry complaints from the students did nothing however. After four years, he still teaches there.

Jackie said...

Brett, the problem with your proposal is that its still going to result in the same issues. Parents who actually want to be involved will take the class but parents who can't or don't care to be involved won't. When I first got pregnant I read about 10 parenting books and signed up for more then enough parenting websites and researched like crazy because I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't really know what the "right" way is. There's plenty of material out there already to help people figure it out though.
Sometimes I think that the best way would just to require people to jump through hoops before they can get pregnant like they do when people want to adopt. It's really the only guaranteed way to ensure a person is going to be fit to raise a child. But then of course that still doesn't sit right with me due to the whole pro-choice thing and how do you regulate that and if someone who isn't "allowed" to get pregnant does what do you do, etc. etc. I just don't think a penalty or reward system would never work. It's going to be the same people who do well that would strive for a reward and the same people who don't care who are getting a penalty.
I guess the best plan of action is to fund more birth control campaigns and open more pregnancy centers.

B.Graham said...

that is a really interesting picture they chose for the TIME Mag cover... Rhee could be (could have been?) cleaning up schools, or sweeping the real problems under the table, or she could just be a witch.

Max Nova said...

... or a witch with a "b" as many people likely, unfortunately, said in private.

Brett - I think the stuff that Geoffrey Canada does at his charter schools and organizations is based around teaching parents good parenting early (assuming he's the same fellow from that one This American Life episode, which I think he is). He (or the guy on TAL) was a big proponent of poorer families doing the things that middle class families have been doing for ages. For Jackie it was common sense to research as much as possible, for many parents it is not.