Commentary

Spoon-fed schooling hurts students

March 15, 2014 

By now we have all heard of “Helicopter Parenting” and the ill-effects this type of parenting can have on a child such as developing a fear of failure, becoming co-dependent, a lack of accountability and a lack of confidence. The good intentions of No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing have resulted in similar practices and results in our classrooms.

Twenty years ago, student success was a shared responsibility among students, parents, and teachers. Over the past 10-15 years, teachers and schools have become solely responsible for ensuring student success, and our students have had every aspect of their school-based lives managed for them.

The kids have picked up on this: They have learned they will be taken care of in this culture of codependency. We do have some really great, hard-working students, but sadly there are also many students who have come to expect a passing grade just for showing up. As a result, and for good reason, our leaders want us to raise our standards in the classroom.

A big challenge

Currently, our students are sitting in class waiting to be spoon-fed information for a standardized test. We are now trying to shift our focus to teaching our students to be creative, critical problem solvers and ones who can work together with others to meet these problem solving challenges so they can be more successful in the workplace. One of the biggest hurdles that we face is trying to get our helicoptered children to adapt rapidly, as opposed to transitioning them gradually, to this "new" way of learning.

And then there’s the testing…The state assessments are supposed to be testing our students on their ability to be creative, critical thinkers and problem solvers, and yet the way our students are judged on their mastery of these skills is based on their performance on a multiple choice test. This is not a fair way to assess the students on these skills. These assessments also raise the standard required to be considered at or above grade level.

Last year, the state of NC arbitrarily decided that the goal was to have 36 percent of our students classified as at or above grade level, regardless of how well they performed on the tests. Some students received As on their state tests but were still classified as “performing below grade level” by the state. This is confusing to the teachers, parents, and students.

Political pawns

When the government decides to increase the rigor of the courses, the grade needed for proficiency, and assess the students in an insufficient way, the resulting data that is released to the public makes it appear as though our schools are currently “failing” our students when, in fact, in Wake County 91.6 percent of teachers met or exceeded student academic growth standards on the state’s new Teacher Effectiveness Index for 2012-13. Data from 2011 shows North Carolina’s fourth-grade math students had the highest US test average of participating states, and they were one of only eight education systems worldwide that outscored the test average and the U.S. national average on The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (an international comparative study of student achievement). Our public schools are not failing: Our children are being used as pawns in a political game.

Bad for business

I have a friend who works at a well-known company in Raleigh. She oversees a number of employees, one of whom earned a promotion last year. The new position was one that required initiative and the ability to lead and guide other employees. This person was simply incapable of doing that, and ultimately requested to be demoted back to the previous position! What this employee really wanted and needed was a “helicopter boss.”

Business leaders also have another reason to be concerned over what is currently going on with education in our area. Over the past few decades, Raleigh has experienced a large population growth, and part of the big draw during this population boom has been the strength of our public schools.

Research has shown that quality public schools contribute to the economic competiveness of metropolitan areas. Moreover, research shows that investing more in public schools has shown a direct correlation in the increase in property value: a $20 increase per $1 spent on education.

Politicians who intentionally paint our public schools in a bad light and the resulting political turmoil surrounding education in NC right now are not good for companies seeking to recruit employees. We cannot continue to draw new people to, and keep people in, our area while continuing to tear down our public schools.

Thankfully, some of our local business leaders know this, as evidenced by the formation of BEST NC - Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina. More people need to join the effort. We need to continue to expect more of our children, and we need to equip public education to reward creative thinking and problem solving skills to in turn create more effective leaders for our community.

Allisen Fischer teaches math at Broughton High School in Raleigh. Contact her via email at lettography@gmail.com.

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