Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Education has become a numbers game

My letter refers to The Daily Item article, “KIPP, Lynnfield, Swampscott schools get high marks,” published June 13.

Congratulations to the teachers and students involved — how wonderful for them to be ranked in the top 50 U.S. schools. However, I want to also congratulate those teachers and students who have worked very hard during this past school year but happen to be in an underachieving school.

Unfortunately, you never (or seldom) make headlines for any of your accomplishments. Usually the only headlines you receive are the ones saying your school is underperforming. I have witnessed this first hand because I teach in a school that is ranking in the bottom 10 percent.

Sadly, I have often heard references by the general public to an underachieving school as one that “sucks.” How demeaning and demoralizing those words are to the teachers and students of the school.

What the general public doesn’t know, or care sometimes to know, is that there are hard-working and highly-qualified teachers in those schools and students who go on to great achievements in life.

Regrettably, the success of a school system or individual school now revolves around standardized testing with the “capstone” being MCAS — the state comprehensive assessment test. 

MCAS is written in English and given to all Massachusetts students on the same day across the state. Students whose native tongue is English and who have been continuously taught in our system, or for most of their education, should be able to perform OK.

The same can’t be said for those students who are relatively new to the United States, whose language is not English, and who might have had very little, if any, education before entering this country.

Couple that with poor attendance as we often see in underperforming schools and the results are bound to be low.

All of this does not sound to me like a fair comparison, in part because test results are compared annually but with the comparison made between different groups of students. For instance, each 10th grade is compared to the prior one and not the same group of students as they matriculate. 

Education has become a numbers game: Graduation rates, suspension rates, retention rates, number of graduates going to college, number of students taking honors classes.

There are countless factors in a child’s life that affect how they perform in school, including education level, native language, family structure, motivation, and their family’s vested interest in them — just to name a few.

If we want our education system to improve, families need to support their child’s education and be involved. We don’t need “helicopter” parents; we need parents who will help their child/children learn and succeed.

As teachers, we need to be involved in the decisions that are made as to how to educate our students. These decisions should not just come from those who don’t do our job and have simply been a student at one time in their life. 

We need more teachers so we can have smaller class sizes. Most important, we need to fail students if they fail, and keep them back if they are not ready for the next grade level. Our kids are not learning anything by being moved through the system and they are not learning how to pick themselves up and move on when they fail. 

Allowing students to move on in school when they are not ready serves no good purpose other than to fill quotas. Students who act inappropriately in a school environment, who skip classes continuously, who disrupt classes, and threaten others should be asked to leave.

We need the ability to do this without the state penalizing a school system. If this doesn’t happen there will be a shortage of teachers in underachieving schools in the near future.

In closing, I must say that I don’t understand how charter schools are able to be in “business” under the realm of the public school system and receive public school funding when they can ask students to leave, require uniforms, not accept all students when traditional schools cannot.

It is certainly not fair. 

 

Virginia LeBlanc

Swampscott

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