Monday, April 30, 2012

Motivating Students - A Two-Tier System by Motivation, Not Ability

Can we change the luck formula?
This post, at least the majority of it, was not written by me, although it could have been and I wish I had written it.  I have long advocated for the students who want to learn, and I have been frustrated by those who do not care, not because they are throwing away their education, which they are, but because they are also forfeiting the education of their classmates.  As one of a growing number of parents who has opted out of the local public school (and remember, this is a well regarded school, not a failing school) and as a witness to the train wreck that is public education, I can tell you that something needs to change very quickly and radically. 

In researching this blog, I found an interesting article that catalogs the problems in today's classrooms and suggests a solution that would actually work in the last few paragraphs.  These excerpts, especially, spoke to me as a possible solution:
  • "Public schools must be allowed to purge disruptive elements in defense of student’s rights."
  • "The classrooms will be overly populated with angry, frustrated students who have been failed by their families, their schools, their communities, American corporations, their government and, most importantly, themselves. How do we teach students who, for many reasons, do not value their own education? How do we teach students whose families are not actively vested in their own children’s education? Every child has a right to an education, but what do we do with the large numbers of students who impede other students’ pursuit of knowledge and achievement? Until there is a massive overhaul of the urban public school system, perhaps we should embrace a two-tier school policy that separates involved families (like Steve Collins’s) and motivated students (like Shatara) from the disruption and discouragement of the students who seemingly do not care."
A lot of the dissent against a two-tier policy is that low income students are disproportionately placed in the lower classrooms because they are further behind, which is probably true and hence a valid concern.  But, our school system is more segregated than ever, and the disruption of learning is not just occurring in poor areas, as this commenter on the above article noted:
  • Ah, it’s called heterogenious (sic) grouping and it’s the idea of the educational elite: put students of all ability levels into one classroom where the slower ones will be inspired by the smarter ones. Any teacher will tell you it works just the opposite: the brighter, motivated students get dragged down by the nitwits in the back of the room. It’s happening in all schools, not just poor ones.
The only thing that I would take issue with in the above comment would be the use of the terminology "slower" and "smarter".  It is my experience that slow does not always equal unmotivated any more than smart corrolates with "good student".  In fact, the students that are not innately gifted but who work and try are the students that the current system is most neglecting, as I witnessed last week while proctoring the state tests.  Only two of my students did well; those who don't care performed poorly, but the heartbreaking part was that those who did try throughout the school year did almost as poorly.  Those students struggled with the basics such as long division, but they did learn the concepts that they were taught in my class, such as setting up proportions or evaluating formulas.  Those are the ones we need to save.

The following bullets are some of the highlights from the comment section of the Kristof article.  There are a lot of good ideas from a lot of different sources on a range of topics, but I cherry-picked the comments that pertain to the two-tier system in one way or another.  I did not edit these in any way, leaving misspellings and grammatical errors as is.
  • Schools could try just moving disruptive students into a “detention class” which would be large enough to constitute a “class” Students who got good grades would gradually be moved into an “achievement class” . So the motivated students would, within a few days or weeks, be separated from the unmotivated, within the same school. Teachers would have to endure periods of teaching a whole class of the unmotivated but maybe these students could learn something, since most would be functioning below grade level. if a student did homework five days in a row with some degree of effort he or she could move back into an “achievement class.”
  • The parents want a two tier system so that’s what we’ll have. This is a democratic country. Public education was put in place by the people because the fee-based system of education in 19th century America was unfair to those too poor to pay. (This is still the system in poor regions like Africa). It was meant to provide the opportunity for an education to all, not a guarantee of an education nor a form of adolescent day care. This was understood at the time. If current law (or politics) prevents the public schools from providing the proper environment for learning, parents will go to alternatives.
  • But we must not succomb to the notion that tolerating such awful behavior in students just to uphold some governmental requirement for school is bankrupt.
  • I, too, am frustrated with the unmotivated students that consistently disrupt my classroom in our middle school. Like Will, I have also proposed a separate place (in our campus-designed school, we would have a separate building available) for those students who show by their behavior that they cannot function in a regular classroom.
  • We have an alternative school in our system, with too few places. We now have a policy of sending students back to regular school at the beginning of each new quarter. This includes students who have assaulted students and teachers, and who are chronic disrupters. At the beginning of each nine weeks, we lose learning time dealing with these students, who may then be sent to the alternative school again, or not.
  • A separate place at the same school could go two ways: either it becomes a mark of honor to be there, given the mindset of some of our students, or it becomes a place to get out of, in which case the separation would have served its purpose. A monthly or even bi-weekly review of students’ work and behavior would give frequent crossover capability. Our subject curriculums are well-calibrated between teachers, and transitioning could happen fairly seamlessly. I can see parents buying into this program as well, which, as Will expresses, is one of the key differences between students who are succeeding academically, and those who are not.
  • Segregate the losers. Let them perform for each other. They will soon diminish in numbers as the stigma of being second class will motivate those with any self respect. The future of the rest is written. “Nor all thy piety nor wit may call it back to cancel half a line”. Segregation will keep the damage at the ordained level.
  • 1 As you suggest, segregate students according to scholarship. Then segregate again according to achievement rate. 2 Treat the vast slag pile at the bottom appropriately. An effective school for them will resemble boot camp or even a prison. Punishments and rewards. Behavior modification. That sort of thing. Jack it up. Don’t just blather about cultural sensitivity and civil rights.
  • Until the problem “students” are permanently removed from the classroom there will be no solution worthy of the term. Kids who are unwilling to participate have no place with kids who are ready to get an education. They should be segregated into other educational institutions better able to address their needs.
  • Teaching to the lowest common denominator is not “social justice”.
  • Separate classrooms, maybe even separate schools, emphasis on discipline and social skills.
  • The troubled kids should be isolated so that the ambitious ones can learn.
  • What if schools saw themselves as places to educate children? What if students who were not prepared with books, pen, and paper were not admitted to class? What if students who disrupted class were not allowed to return? What if classes were designed for the students who wished to progress? Why are the students who want to learn paying for the warehousing of disengaged children with their futures?
  • Only when we create schools for learning and teaching will they have something of value to offer. The future of our country depends on it. We are not educating vast numbers of our citizens. How will we make intelligent choices, contribute to our society, if our population is denied an education because we choose to use schools as a place to enclose rather than educate?
  • I would suggest that the Chicago public high schools divide their schools into three tracks: college prep, general studies, and drop-in classes. The serious students in the first track, who want to go to college, could take classes together with other motivated students. The students, who don’t want to go to college, but want a high school diploma, could take general studies classes in the second track with other students who want to graduate. The third track could be for the students with poor attendance, no motivation, behavior problems, etc.
  • It is obvious that students eligible for the third track have NOT BEEN PARENTED by caring adults. Their parents probably have overwhelming problems themselves and no time or skills to raise them. This group of students should get social services that they never received at home: getting good nutrition, being read aloud to, being taught survival skills like cooking and laundry, classes in anger management, having caring adults who listen to them, field trips to cultural sites, etc. In other words, they should get all the attention that other children take for granted. These children are STARVED for good care and, more than likely, willing to disrupt a class to deny an education to others getting what they lack in their own lives. (If I am starving, and I see you eating steak, it would be tempting to make your meal as miserable as possible.)
  • This third track would be expensive to administer; but, would save society millions in the future. Also, the goal would be to move students in this track up into the other tracks, as they learn to care about school and their own futures.
  • It's pretty hard to teach content when this is
    happening.  And it is happening.
  • Unfortunately, and as ugly as it is, the only fair thing to do (as far as the motivated, or even semi-motivated are concerned) is to allow a two tier system. As a (recent) product of public education, I’ve seen how the unwilling ruin the education experiences of even the most motivated students and how they zap the scarce resources schools have. Money and time that could be spent creating motivation for borderline students through programs like sports and clubs. Public schools are being forced to cut programs that provide motivation (or find corporate sponsorship) in order to provide enough discipline and remedial attention to students unwilling to put any effort into learning. Why should good students suffer for the sake of these bad apples when (in some cases) the best efforts of the most dedicated adults isn’t going to accomplish anything? Why cut the programs that keep marginal students interested in order to keep trouble makers and hate mongers in school? Why punish everyone else in order to force people who don’t want to be in school to go there?
  • How do you teach kids who don’t want to learn? You don’t. You can’t.
  • Students who do not want to learn and will not let other students learn are destroying public schools across the nation. Administrators and school boards will not give the teachers the tools to combat these students. Therefore, these students run the schools and abuse the teachers and students who want to learn. The administrators will not support the teachers.
  • I think that any teacher who has taught in a failing public district school has wished that some of the more motivated kids had a better chance. When I taught in Camden, teachers would whisper the names of charter schools to parents at conferences. It felt like an underground railroad to a real education. While I wish more district schools could be places of learning, in the meantime charters give hope to some of our students. Today I’m a teacher in a great charter school and I’m happy that our 300 students at least have a chance. Maybe some day more district schools can work like ours and more students will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
  • Many other countries have a tracked system whereby students who are not interested in academics still get a solid education in a trade. This might be a good alternative.
  • If they don’t want to be in school get them out where they can go to the future that they so richly deserve and leave the students who want to learn alone. Yes I know it is harsh but tell what else works?
  • While it’s a shame that many parents do not have the time or the inclination to be sure their children get an education, which is virtually free for them, the rest of the student body should not be forced to waste their time while teachers are spending their efforts on kids who, for whatever reason, do not care.
    Many may beleive education to be a right, but if the opportunity is available and is not taken advantage of, it is only the fault of those who let it pass them by.I had very few teachers who did not give their all in the class room. They worked tirelessly to help everyone who showed even an ounce of desire, and more on those who didn’t. The situation in public schools is absolutly not the fault of teachers.
    It is the fault of parents and communities who are not forced to learn and strive and work or starve. It is the failure of a culture that has pride in ignorance and getting something for nothing.

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