Friday, September 21, 2012

The Meaningless OBE Grading System

I believe that parents should be able to choose their children’s grading system.

The grading system put into place before the full onslaught of Blueprint 2000/OBE curricula was almost immediately effective at changing many students’ attitudes toward academic achievement.  The schools removed the familiar ABCDF grades on report cards and replaced them with: E (Extends and applies any knowledge, new or old), S (Satisfactory progress), P (In the process of learning) and U (Unsatisfactory).  This was implemented in the elementary schools with plans to move it up into the higher grades - according the state level E’s own written plans - although the middle school administrators I spoke with denied it.  And, as it turned out, the parents were able to at least stop it from going any farther.  People across the state poured into the schools to protest, and when that had no effect, they started passing out petitions and showing up at school board meetings.  Articles appeared in the newspapers – the internet wasn’t very widely used back then.  The Pasco County School Board decided to take a survey of the teachers since there were protests from many of them as well.  The following is a close copy of a letter I wrote to School Board members at the time of that survey.  I have shortened it, but the description of the effect the new system had on my son and many others remains intact.  The sad thing is that grading systems similar to this one have been tried many times in the past – and always bring about the same results for many students.

“May 21, 1993

Dear School Board Members,

One of the things you may hear from the teachers as part of the survey will be that students lost their motivation or will to achieve.  This was not covered as well as I’d hoped at the school board meeting, mostly because the speakers were so focused on the effect of the E S P U grading system on a student’s chances at higher education.  The story of what happened at my house might help illustrate what ‘loss of motivation’ looks like on the home front.

When the new grading system came about, my first ‘gut’ reaction was that this was not a good idea, but I, like many other parents, gave it a year to see how it worked.  It did not take a full year to see that something was seriously wrong.  My son was in fifth grade and, as always, seemed content and genuinely interested in many of the new things he was learning.  He earned mostly S’s, with an occasional E in Art and Spelling.  I did not become alarmed until one day I tackled the chore of cleaning out his back pack, which was such a mess I knew there had to be plenty of papers I hadn’t seen yet.  I found three Science test papers that had half the answers marked as incorrect.  The number grades were in the 70’s; they were C’s.  These tests were on topics that Douglas had discussed at the dinner table with some enthusiasm, so I was quite surprised to see he had done so poorly on the tests.  I called his teacher.

This is how I found out that ‘S’ had a range of anywhere from A work to C work, and my reaction was extremely negative.  I had a wonderful talk with his teacher which gave me a much better idea of what I was going to be dealing with for the rest of the school year.  When he got home, I showed him the test papers and asked him if he was having trouble with any of the material covered on them.  He said no, he wasn’t.  Then he told me it was okay, it was still an ‘S’.  The bottom line of the rest of the conversation was that he had simply started goofing off.  He wasn’t paying as close attention during class, and never bothered reviewing the material before a test.  … I explained that his job in school was to do the best work that he could, and that I was sure he could do much better than those tests reflected.  The rest of the year, Douglas would fluctuate from good work to lackadaisical work, with us constantly propping him back up.  Finally, one day, I got fed up, and I found myself telling him that I didn’t care what his school said; our family did its best no matter what we set out to do.  That appeared to do the trick – it became a matter of family pride and accomplishment.  But I don’t think I could ever express to you how thoroughly disgusted I was that that is what I had to tell him.”

As a result of all the ruckus, each school took a vote on either going back to the old grading system or continuing with the new.  Some schools continued with the ESPU system despite how the parents felt about it, and despite what it was doing to so many students.  For the large majority of parents, this is how things still stand on all too many issues concerning education.   Let me emphasize – the grading system was not the experiment.  The effect of the new grading system was known in advance.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dropout Prevention – Part I

It was a retired teacher, and fellow activist, who first whispered to me that the schools experimented on children.  At the time this went right over my head since I associated the notion of experiments with Pavlov’s stimulus/response work where he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell or counting mutations in fruit flies.  As I learned more about how the whole realm of academics was being implemented under OBE, however, I realized that experimentation could also be set up as a lack of stimulation/response situation.  Learning is brilliantly stimulating for the brain, not just because kids love to learn, but because the work of learning forms and strengthens multiple neural pathways.  I often tell my students that doing math - with paper and pencil - is like lifting weights with the brain.  In the absence of effective teaching, learning will not occur, and when this is coupled with constantly assessing these untaught skills, a large number of students will begin to turn away.  It becomes too painful to continue caring about academic achievement when that achievement is impossible.   It is simply in self-defense that many children will respond, quite predictably, by gradually dropping out of the environment causing the pain.  And boredom – progressive de-education is very, very boring.
Then we got hold of the hilariously titled Graduation Enhancement/Dropout Prevention plan books for four counties in Florida – Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota.  By “we”, I mean the education group IVBE (Independent Voices for Better Education) –  At one of our first gatherings, the more experienced members of this group taught all the bewildered parents that when we wanted any kind of information from the schools, we needed: the exact wording of the title and any other print on the cover; the color of the cover; whether it was hardback or soft; the dimensions of the document or book, including length, width and height; the number of pages; how it was bound – and it might still be impossible to get what we asked for without delay or cost.  All that for information that we as parents and taxpayers had bought and paid for.   “Follow the money” has always been one of IVBE's credos whenever we had a question about the school system’s aberrant behavior, but it was still incredibly shocking to see everything down in black and white.  By page 6 of Pasco’s book (1993-1994), it was clear that all the changes going on under the guise of “school improvement” would be producing the criteria for these new programs.

There are three categories of dropout factors: school related, family factors and personal factors.
·        I was surprised that the first item under "school related" is absenteeism/truancy/frequent tardiness because this was during the time that parents were being arrested and fined, if not worse, when their kids didn’t make it to school often enough.  The E’s must feel more responsible for this behavior than they are willing to admit. 
·        With the new grading system implemented simultaneously, as well as next to no homework, parents found it very difficult to keep up with how their kids were doing, but the teachers all knew exactly what was going on in that regard.  I had one teacher tell me he kept two separate grading books, one where all the grades were “S” for Satisfactory to keep the administration happy, and another where he recorded the actual grades his students were earning on tests and class work.  It was the “S’s” that were making it home.  When I explained to a different teacher that I had seen my son’s test grades go from A’s to C’s but he still got an “S” on his report card, she told me I wasn’t supposed to see those test scores!
·        Even brilliant children can be, and were, dumbed down using the methods implemented during the days of Blueprint 2000/OBE.
·        Reading, writing, arithmetic – Whole Language; no grammar taught and no writing errors corrected; confusing, inefficient computation methods, out of sequence skills, calculators – done, done & done.
·        Verbal deficiency – this could be a couple things.  Kids with trouble pronouncing words won’t be corrected.  It’s supposed to be bad for their self-esteem - at least until they get labeled and put into a speech program (more money that way), and half the time I wonder what the heck they do in there, since there’s rarely any improvement.  This could also be a reference to the lack of explicit vocabulary instruction – the students were in fact told to skip over words they didn’t know at the exact same time they were told to try to guess at the meaning of unknown words from “context”.
·        Both the inability to tolerate structured activities and disruptive classroom behavior are actively encouraged by classrooms where the kids are actually supposed to be constantly milling around from group to group or station to station.  Staying still and focusing on an academic task takes practice, with the periods of on-task time lengthening in incremental stages.  I’m not convinced that little boys can’t learn to sit still – they did it for centuries.
·        How to limit participation in extra-curricular activities?  Make it very expensive.  Parents are told repeatedly that one way to keep their increasingly disinterested children in school is to get them involved in sports or band, etc.  The poor kids can’t afford it and are therefore more likely to drop out.

The rest of the criteria naturally follows.  In following posts, I’d like to go into more detail about how that new grading system worked to obscure what was going on achievement-wise as well as how the listed family factors figured into it.  Plus, of course, there will be the description of the wonderful Dropout Programs themselves, as outlined in the system’s very own words.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Short History

Way back in the mid-1990’s, when my kids were in elementary school, the nation’s public schools began to change - again.  Around here, the first thing to go was a meaningful grading system, and by meaningful, I mean a report card that the parents could understand.  This made it nearly impossible for parents to realize how badly their children were starting to perform on tests, quizzes and other class work.  Homework was almost non-existent, so parents didn’t have that to go by either.  Along with this change was the switch to teaching methods that were known to fail horribly at producing student achievement.  Whole Language, which was blatantly anti-phonics, came to Florida after it was proven to fail to teach reading – California’s student reading scores had already begun plunging very shortly after its implementation.  The math curriculum, known variously as “Discovery Math” or “Fuzzy Math”, earned nation-wide scorn as did the federal-level folks who wrote the new math standards described as “a mile wide and an inch deep” by upset mathematicians.  Nothing was left untouched.  Grammar instruction had vanished long before.  History and Science teaching stopped; students instead were exhorted to learn to “explore” and “access information”.  Ever more ignorant students constantly had their self-esteem boosted by teachers gushing praise – for nothing.  Parents diving more deeply into what was going on were introduced to the concepts of Values Clarification, cognitive dissonance, change agents, and the Delphi Technique.  The Educators called this new paradigm “Outcome-Based Education”, Blueprint 2000” and “Holistic”, but I thought of it as “Spooky”. 

This was the worst spasm of dumbing down I’d ever seen or read about.  Naturally, children began to lose interest in their own education and to not care about the quality of their work.  I was complaining to my son about a terrible piece of work he showed me - a shoebox diorama book report with a short paragraph filled with misspellings and other errors sloppily pasted on the back that had received not one mark, correction or comment when he said to me, “But Mom, the teacher doesn’t care; why do you?”

 Pointing out that all these progressive methods had been tried before , and failed miserably, back in the 60’s-70”, had no effect on the E’s no matter how many people tried to tell them, how many expert articles were written (by fellow Educators!), how many pages of research were shown to them.  Nothing was going to change the course already set – by whom was a matter of great conjecture.  Meanwhile, my children were not receiving an education.  I had majored in English & Secondary Education – I hit the books.   And it turns out that dumbing down, both selectively and collectively, has a much longer and more sordid history than I ever dreamed.

For decades now, one of the more worrisome issues in the education world is the drop-out rate.  There are battles going on right now about how to define it and who to count.  The states give one percentage, and the feds give a different, less flattering percentage.  Everywhere, there is intense hand-wringing over what causes so many young people to lose interest in their futures to such an extent that they’d drop out of their schools. The Educators are willing to do just about anything to find out how to prevent it, so they say.

It is all a lie.

School personnel have known for several generations exactly how to produce drop-out behavior in children – in some cases, psychologically, as young as second grade.  It stands to reason that they have also known how to prevent it.

Parents whose kids were stuck in poor to mediocre schools were told in the 90’s that all the “improvements” the E’s were bringing about were “research-based”.  The parents understood this to mean that the new methods had been proven to be better at producing student achievement.  It turns out, however, that all the changes were an essential part of the actual research itself, but the curricular, grading and method changes were not experimental part. The research money that came pouring into the states was paying for all the various “Drop-out Prevention Programs” that would be tested on the students who fit the drop-out criteria.  The dumbing down of the 90’s, was simply the means of producing the criteria for the drop-out programs.   That’s right – the schools brought about drop-out behavior in order to study how to prevent drop-out behavior.

Education research money has been devastating the once vaunted United States public school system for generations.  Sometimes, primarily before anti-discrimination laws, the experiments have touched smaller, specific groups of students such as minorities or the poor. Other times, such as in the 1990’s – and the 60’s to70’s - the experiments will effect nearly everyone.  I believe this explains a great deal about the mess we find ourselves in today.  The extreme dumbing down that produced the criteria for filling various “Prevention” programs is what provided much of the impetus for the Charter School and Voucher movements as well as the further growth of the home school population. These are great movements, but they are way too limited to bring about the end of using the vast majority of trapped students as the Education Monopoly’s guinea pigs.  The voucher programs are primarily geared toward the very poor or the students who have already been labeled, often falsely. As it stands, there are next to no options for the mid to lower middle class and working class students, especially in these economic times.  We must have Universal Parental Choice so that everyone can have the same chance at providing their children with the education they deserve.  Our children shouldn’t have to be poor, or labeled, or win a lottery in order to Pursue the Happiness of thriving in a decent school.

This blog will cover many areas of the education issue, but I want to primarily focus on informing my readers about the extent, the depth, and the history of experiments performed on this country’s students without their parents’ knowledge, let alone permission.  The language quoting the results of school-based research can be pretty stilted.  I will usually give direct quotes and sources with my own commentary where I feel it necessary.  Here is one example of an experiment on reinforcement:

“In the first class of fifth-grader pupils the ‘extroverts’ were praised after each task, and the ‘introverts’ were blamed.  In the second class of pupils this procedure was reversed and the ‘extroverts’ were blamed while ‘introverts’ were praised.” (Kerlinger, Fred N. Foundations of Behavioral Research. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964.) (Citing: G. Thompson and C. Hunnicutt, “The Effects of Repeated Praise or Blame on the Work Achievement by ‘Introverts’ and ‘Extroverts,’” Journal of Educational Psychology, XXXV (1944), 257-266.)

Did the parents know, way back in the 1940’s that their children were being labeled as ‘introverts’ or ‘extroverts’ and that this was the basis of an experiment?  Were all the children in the class labeled one or the other?  Did the quality of the student’s task have no bearing on the teacher’s response – just the label?  Exactly how many billions of tax-payer money have been squandered on unnecessary experimentation under the mask of education?