(Bill Hanlon/Hanlon’s Razor) – Can the public school system provide a better education for students that would be reflected in increased student achievement?
The simple answer is it depends upon your expectations. Are the goals reasonable and attainable?
Let’s talk about goals that are reasonable and attainable. If I were to take a box of toothpicks and empty them on a table, most of the toothpicks would stay pretty close to the point of impact. The further away from the point of impact, the fewer the number of toothpicks. Another example of that might be if I went to a busy shopping mall and lined everyone up from tallest to shortest. Most people would be about the same height, but there would be a few extremes, some very, very tall people and some very, very short people. These situations are described by the Standard Normal Curve (Bell Curve).
The Normal Curve is also used to describe a normal population. That is to say, that most people are of average intelligence and then we have a few people that might be considered geniuses and some on the other end of the spectrum that might not be.
Now, should we have the same expectations for all these students? With the adoption of the common core standards nationwide, we do. We are expecting all students to take and pass mathematics through Algebra 2. Does that goal seem reasonable and attainable? Twenty-five years ago, only the top 35% of the student population enrolled in Algebra 1, now all kids are expected to successfully complete Algebra 2.
It might be argued that the bottom three stanines would not be able to meet the common core standards on the first attempt – 23% of the population. Saying that another way, on a perfect day, only 77% of the population would meet those standards.
Now, how does that play out in a Geometry or Algebra 2 class? Clearly, there are students who have an interest and enthusiasm in learning mathematics that should be in the class. But you also have students who have learning difficulties and may have difficulty mastering basic facts and procedures or learning more abstract concepts, and then you have the rest of the kids that are taking Algebra 2 to be with their friends. Having this mix causes frustration for top performing students, it is not addressing the needs of the kids who haven’t mastered prerequisite material, and it has to aggravate the teachers who are somehow expected to have all these students meet these academic goals.
It just seems that, as a community, we should be able to acknowledge and respect different bases of knowledge. When a person is fixing my car or my air conditioner, I really don’t care if he can solve higher degree equations using the Rational Root Theorem. What I care about is can he fix my car or air conditioner. Just what is so wrong about wanting to cook for a living or be a plumber, why can’t we respect that knowledge base?
Policymakers not living in southern Nevada have adopted the common core standards that have been adopted in 48 states. Those now become the expectations for all students in our community – in our schools.
By 2014, all the students in those 48 states will be taking the same tests based on those standards, I think I can predict the results today for students taking classes through Algebra 2 who either don’t have the ability or the interest in mathematics. So, if the expectation is 100% of our students will meet those standards, get ready for some disappointment and be ready to criticize public education. But please ask yourself; Are the expectations reasonable and attainable?
But remember, happiness is a choice. If your expectations of public education are reasonable and attainable, chances are you will have a much higher level of satisfaction with public education in America and we will all have the added benefit of having opportunities to go out and enjoy a nice dinner or have an electrician wire our homes properly.