Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Teacher Speaks Back to Daniels & Bennett

An Indiana AP teacher speaks back to the reckless spin of the Daniels/Bennett machine.  And look!  She actually brings data to a question about education!  Daniels lack of understanding or even concern for public education never ceases to amaze (and how Bennett can sleep at night is beyond us).  AP isn't the answer and it wasn't designed to be.  Historically, AP classes where for those top 2% students that might be ready to take college level classes.  For Daniels (and apparently Bennett) all education is for is a piece of paper that leads to a job--if that's true then rush these kids through, put them in classes that they're not ready for, and make it look good for the paper.

Cheers to this brave and thoughtful teacher!  We need more to speak out!!

Lynette Enz Liberge
Posted: June 13, 2010

In a recent ceremony honoring 12 Indiana high schools for having at least 25 percent of their students pass an Advanced Placement exam, Gov. Mitch Daniels praised the schools for "preserving the opportunity for upward mobility in our state and our society." That seems an odd choice of words, given the socioeconomic data of those schools.
According to the Indiana Youth Institute, the percentage of Hoosier students receiving free and reduced lunch was 42 percent in 2009. By contrast, the school corporations of the 12 high schools in question averaged only 16 percent. In fact, seven of the 12 schools are in districts with the six lowest percentages in the state.
Similarly, the website STATS Indiana reports that in 2000 only 19 percent of our state's adults had a bachelor's degree or higher. In the same year, 58 percent of adults in Carmel had four-year degrees, as did 60 percent of adults in Zionsville and Fishers and 70 percent in West Lafayette.
The fact that these 12 high schools have such a high percentage of advanced students is laudable. It is not, however, a sign of upward mobility. At best, it shows maintenance of the status quo. It might even be argued that Martinsville High School's 9 percent AP pass rate in a district with fewer than 12 percent of adults with four-year degrees actually shows more promise of upward mobility than does Carmel's 31 percent pass rate in its more highly educated township.
I do not mean to diminish the great things going on in those 12 schools. Daniels was right to praise the schools, teachers, principals and superintendents. However, his admonition for other educators to "take notice" is not only insulting, but may ultimately be detrimental to the very students he wishes to help.
The Indiana Department of Education has a goal of doubling the number of students passing AP exams in the next two years. It wants all schools to meet the 25 percent benchmark. This is unreasonable. The governor can't simply will a mediocre student to be prepared for an AP-level class from one year to the next. The skills, knowledge, work ethic and mind-set of an advanced student develop throughout the student's life, both at home and at school.
In many school districts, a majority of parents do not value education, rarely read to their children and never help them with their homework. Just as the high expectations displayed in Zionsville and West Lafayette are passed from generation to generation, these negative patterns are also entrenched in families and in certain areas. Short of some sudden and vast societal change, these districts will not have a 25 percent AP pass rate in 20 years, much less two.
In order to meet state expectations, school administrators and counselors are likely to push students to take classes for which they are not qualified. In order not to lose those students, the teacher will be forced to move at a slower pace or water down the course, hurting those students who were prepared for the class in the first place.
(If the quality of the curriculum falls low enough, the College Board could even pull the school's right to call it an AP course, thus depriving all students of the opportunity to take it.)
Through this unrealistic goal, the state is already cheapening Indiana's AP program in word; its implementation could cheapen the program in substance.
I only wish that educators had the power that Daniels and the DOE seem to believe we do: that with a little more work, a little more training, a little more researchinto the best methods and a little more accountability, teachers can turn things around for all students. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of many dedicated people throughout the state, the path to true upward mobility seems to be a little more difficult to find than that.



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