Friday, August 27, 2010

An honest question

I'm hoping some of you readers might be able to answer a question for me. Has anyone heard of having an AP class made up of 9th graders? I'm not talking about a few gifted 9th graders taking a class with juniors or seniors. I mean a class of 9th graders taking an AP class.

We didn't have AP classes when I was in high school, so this is pretty new to me. Yes, I know this makes me terribly old, but it is true. Back in those days you got into college based on grades and SAT scores, and high schools were judged on the basis of...I don't know how we judged high schools. I only know "good" colleges recruited at Western and a reasonable number of kids were accepted and graduated from these schools. We had some advanced and high level courses, but the subject matter and curriculum was not based on a test that we would take. My impression (as a student) was that they were based on what teachers felt passionate about. I took "Russian Literature and Existentialism", "The History of Political Thought" and "Analytical Chemistry" in my senior year, if memory serves me. Somehow I survived.

I'm only asking because my understanding of AP classes is that you are doing college level work. I know my kid is smart and all, but I've got my doubts that she, and a whole class of her peers, are really going to do college level work at this point. 9th graders just don't have the practice to quickly spit out thoughtful essays. I'm worried enough about the middle school to high school transition. I know it's got her a bit nervous as well. She said to me, "I'm having second thoughts about this AP class." I responded that as no one had asked her if she wanted to take an AP history class in the first place, (and history is not her favorite or strongest subject) she can have as many thoughts as she wants, but they seem irrelevant.

It's hard not to be suspicious that this class is being driven by the fact that Newsweek says you can judge a high school by the number of AP classes it offers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On returning home

I'm no Thoreau - three kids, a dog & cat, plus a husband in tow - but a week plus of solitude away from the net and the phone and the tv seems very enriching. I admit there's a grocery store, so we're not living off the land. And with a ride or hike out of the valley the cell phone will work, but it's not a regular thing. So what fills in the empty places left by the absence of the grid? Well...
1. I can now identify a beech tree and a sycamore tree
2. I've moved paw-paw's from a song lyric to a fruit I can find and eat
3. A really big mushroom book can be overwhelming, but finding and looking at mushrooms, which appear so quickly, is like searching through coral reefs when you dive
4. A long, daily walk, on the same path, reveals a nearly infinite number of different things to look at
5. Even though a stream always moves if you can be still in the movement it is very peaceful

So there you have it - ten days in the woods of Harford County. A liberal in the land of Erlich signs, but I loved it. Peace, what I need five days before the start of a new school year.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 2, 2010


So, it looks like the flavor of the month (or more likely the school year) for City Schools is truancy. All problems can be traced to kids not being in school and the root cause there is obviously Bad Parents. Such a simple answer to the incredibly complicated problem of a failing education system.

I've got more than a few issues with this, but let's start with the first that is driving this post. Msk did not miss 175 days of school last year. I don't have a calendar where I wrote them down, but I'm guessing he missed 2 or 3 days. I realize he's changed schools every 2 years for the last 6 years, so he might be a little hard to keep track of, but get your attendance system together before you send me threatening letters - $100 fine per day, the importance of education...blah, blah, blah.

In calling around, it turns out that many of these threatening letters were sent out in error. Makes me distrust the whole accounting process of figuring out truancy and attendance. Perhaps the data driving Dr. A's email "Learning from Our Results" was equally flawed. Hard to feel a lot of confidence in these type of hard data pronconcements.

Beyond my general smoldering anger about being told that I need to start caring about schools, I've got another problem with truancy as the cause of all of the school system's problems. I know there are legitimately chronically truant students, although my son isn't one of them. It's pretty easy to dismiss them all as thugs with parents who don't care. If that were the case there would be a single problem to attack, and it would have very little to do with improving the schools. I can quickly think of three other reasons a kid might not be in school that do have to do with what is happening in our schools:

  1. They are being bullied so mercilessly that they feel cutting school is necessary for survival
  2. The atmosphere in the classroom is negative towards students from the teacher and/or administrator that they can't see any point in attending - they've bought into the pronouncement that they are a lost cause
  3. The school situation is so poor/unsafe/unproductive that a parent keeps them home while working on getting them transfered to another school (I could talk about ESY again...)
Look, I'm not saying that isn't a real issue, but from experience I know what happens when "the problem" gets called out. The kids will have daily announcements on the intercom about not missing school and at least one of my kids will be sure (to the point of tears and depression) she is going to get kicked out of her school/program when she gets sick and misses a day. The principals will flow this top priority down to teachers who will make it even harder to make up work from missed days. I'm guessing attendance will factor stronger into grades and assessments. Wonderful. The reality is that my kids missing a few days for illness or a delayed flight from visiting Grandpa are not the ones bringing down the school system's MSA scores.