Friday, August 15, 2008

Like Many Others, I'm Giving This Proposal an "F"

A few months ago, the Dallas Morning News ran a series entitled Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap, which offered a set of ideas for bringing South Dallas up to the standards that people have come to expect from the (as a whole) far-wealthier North Dallas. My response to that--never before articulated in these pages--is that the reason this is not likely to happen can be summed up in four letters: D-I-S-D. The fact that the bulk of South Dallas is located within the Dallas Independent School District is a major hurdle to the advancement of the area. (There--I said it.)

And it's not as simple as "smaller suburban school districts good, big urban district bad." Rather, it's the fact that the DISD brass continues to make idiotic decisions such as this one:
Dallas public school students who flunk tests, blow off homework and miss assignment deadlines can make up the work without penalty, under new rules that have angered many teachers.

The new rules will be distributed when teachers return to their campuses next week. But many who have already seen the regulations say they are too lenient on slackers, and will come at the expense of kids who work hard.

For example, the new rules require teachers to accept late work and prevent them from penalizing students for missed deadlines. Homework grades that would drag down a student's overall average will be thrown out.

School officials said the new guidelines are needed to ensure that all district teachers operate under the same rules and to create a "fair system" for grading students.

"The purpose behind it is to ensure fair and credible evaluation of learning – from grade to grade and school to school," said Denise Collier, the district's chief academic officer.

Some teachers said the new rules offer kids too many loopholes.
You think??

I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to teach in the DISD under policies like this. Isn't it bad enough that kids can't be properly disciplined, or that, when a kid gets in trouble, the parents will often come running to school to defend their "little angel," who couldn't possibly have done anything wrong...and, more often than not, the principal throws the teacher under the bus by reversing the decision? (Never mind the irony that, if the parents had done their jobs in the first place, the kid might not be a discipline problem at school.) I'm not saying that the above things are exclusive to the DISD; unfortunately, that's the case in way too many other places as well. But to add this new policy on top of everything else threatens to turn teachers into little more than highly-paid babysitters.

I probably don't have to tell you that teachers aren't in favor of this:
"It's like we're sending the message to kids that deadlines don't matter, studying is optional, and no matter how little you do, you're still [going to] pass all your classes anyway," said Ray Cox, who teaches world languages at Franklin Middle School.

The intent may have been to create a uniform grading policy, but the result was to lower standards, said Dale Kaiser, president of the teachers' group NEA-Dallas.

The school board and superintendent "talk about elevating standards and holding high expectations for kids, but we're telling the kids that whether they do the work or not is irrelevant," he said.
Precisely. And here's the really scary part:
District records state that the changes are part of a switch to "effort-based" grading and are designed to give students multiple opportunities to demonstrate that they've mastered class material. Requiring teachers to contact parents instead of awarding zeros is designed to increase home-school communications, according to district materials presented recently to principals. Retests and deadline extensions are meant to motivate students to do better after initial failure.
In a word, no. (Can someone please set off the alarm bells now?) This is pushing the district full-throttle towards the touchy-feely, New Age-y movement where self-esteem matters above all, and there are no winners or losers; everyone gets a medal just for participating.

Except that's not how the real world works. Can you imagine that at the Olympics? Not everyone deserves the same medal that Michael Phelps gets unless they actually swim as well as Michael Phelps. There are winners and losers in life, and learning how to deal with that is a crucial part of one's development as a human being.

Not only that, but in the real world, people are held responsible for their actions. C'mon, guys, even a (presumed) college sophomore knows that:
One recent DISD graduate commented that he thought the new rules would give students the wrong impression of how businesses operate.

"Babying the rules so that [students] have almost unlimited chances to pass, that's unreal," said Joshua Perry, a 2007 graduate of Skyline High School. "In the real world, you don't get a whole lot of chances or other ways to make something up."
The young man speaks the truth. If only the DISD officials were smart enough to listen.

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