THE FROG POND - Educating West Virginia

(09/05/2002)

By Suzanne Mazer Stewart

The Stewart family

Our oldest daughter has declared she wants to join her sister next year and be home schooled. So, I got to researching some things on home schooling middle-schoolers the other night when I ran across the link for the WV State Board of Education. Well, now, I thought, here ought to be some interesting reading. Things went from interesting to scary in a hurry. Let me explain to you what I found on that, and other sites.

It seems that the state has set a goal concerning the number of graduating seniors they would like to see. They've set it at 90%. Last year, they managed to graduate 85% of the students who had entered their high schools 3-4 years before. Now, that puts us above the national average, but it still got me to wondering...what about the other 10%? At what point does the teacher or the school say "Oh, well, he's one of THOSE kids" and give up on a struggling student? Who makes the call as to whom those unlucky few are? And why crow about having 15% of your ninth graders not see their diplomas? Shouldn't there be an all-out effort to see that every child succeeds?

Another tidbit I found disturbing was that there are apparently some schools out there willing to take a "let's wait and see" approach to failing and struggling students. They will promote a student to the next grade no matter how close to the minimum passing grade they are. Then, they up the passing percentage, taking the stand that the student must reach higher, work harder, or they'll REALLY fail this time. (honest, we mean it!!) Call me crazy, but wouldn't it make more sense to have a higher standard the first time through a grade? If a child can barely make it through one, how can he be expected to do better in the next one higher up? And what about all the things he should have learned in that lower grade that he apparently didn't? Won't he forever be missing a year out of his education?

Let's talk for just a minute about those standardized tests, too. According to national averages, West Virginia students are nearly a full year behind in math. And, while they may study the same topics in science as other kids in other states, that difference in math skills means that they can't learn those topics at the same levels as those other children. I can teach both my 4 year old and the 11 year old about weather and the rain clouds, but not to the same degree, I assure you. Teachers are being forced to "teach to the test" and not to the student. In the end, only the child loses.

Now, let us look at those national averages and percentages folks are always comparing things with, OK? The last census estimates are that there are 90 MILLION people in this country who are functionally illiterate. That's nearly HALF the population. Half the folks in this country can't read or understand above an eighth grade level. We're not talking about some developing, back-woods country of Africa or South America here. We're talking about the good ol' USA. Now, you figure that number in with the nation's average of only 75% graduation rate and things get really frightening. Our public schools are producing 1 out of every 4 students who can't read, write or understand better than your everyday, run-of-the-mill 13 year old. One out of the remaining 3 won't see graduation day, and will have to settle for a GED, if anything at all. If any private school or home schooling organization delivered these kinds of results, the government would step in and shut them down in a heartbeat, I'm sure.

I really don't know where to lay the blame, honestly. I've been on the "inside" of the blackboard jungle. I've sat in the teacher's chair knowing full well that some of those precious little ones will have to struggle and fight for every year's worth of schooling they can get. I knew that some of them would never graduate high school. That some of them would be lucky to live till their 18th birthdays. That others sitting in those desks would soar to heights even their little imaginations couldn't conceive. I've seen the most concerned, caring parents nearly in tears because no matter what they do or try, their child just doesn't want to apply himself. I've seen the poorest parents kicking butts after conferences because "don't you know education is the only way to MAKE IT in this world?" I've seen the best students come from abusive, ugly homes. There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. One thing I know for sure: the more OTHERS place an importance on education and learning, the more the child learns its importance. Perhaps it really does "take a village."

I know one other thing, as well. If we can get everything worked out, and she still wants me to do it, I'll have two scholars here at home in Frog Pond next year. I can guarantee you THEY'LL be learning. I'll be learning a thing or two myself, I'm sure.

Contact Suzanne
MSZFROGGIE@aol.com


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