A young family member of mine was visiting us after school recently. When I came home, my wife was working with my son on writing his name and coloring inside the lines. I asked the young family member if he had done his home work and he said he had. So I proceeded to ask him a question; convert the fraction one-fifth to a decimal. Now, I have been asking the young people in my family and my wife’s family that same question for more than a decade. And during that time few if any have been able to answer the question without some guidance. What is distressing is that I ask them at a time in their educational development where they should know the answer, as well as know how they arrived at the answer. So I have to ask the question; how is it that an 8th grader in middle school cannot convert a fraction to a decimal and vice versa? And when I say he could not do it, I don’t mean he attempted to work through the steps and came up with a bad answer, he actually had no clue how to tackle the problem. How do you get to the eighth grade and not know basic math concepts. There is something wrong with that. If a student cannot do basic math how is it possible for him or her to understand complex mathematical operations later in their education. He is behind, an will likely never catch up. When I look at the CRCT scores for schools, I tend to zero in on the math. If you look at math scores they generally get worse across the board starting around the fourth grade and never rebound. I know there tends to be a general dislike of math in our society, but math is the driving force behind so many, if not all, of the advancements we enjoy today. Things as widely available as the internet in its foundation is based on mathematical concepts. Software that run the myriad of sites we spend hours at a time on are based in large part on mathematic principles. It is disturbing for me when I see middle and high school kids unable to solve basic math problems. This problem should be a concern for parents as well as presidents. The educational morass that our children are in cannot bode well for our country’s future.
I read two articles about education recently that defines why schools are failing just about everywhere especially here in the metro. One was about a board member in DeKalb name Zepora Roberts . In case you haven’t heard, Ms Roberts decide to go old school on a TV reporter, and threatened to “slug” her if she didn’t back off her and two of her kids who happen to work for DeKalb schools. If going gangsta on the reporter wasn’t enough, the sluggin’ grandma told the AJC that she had no regrets over her statements. Thats polite talk for “I don’t take no crap from no stupid reporter”. At this point, I think the old lady has lost it. Even with this thing being played out in the local media, she remained defiant like a true gangsta. Well today, some four days afterwards, she was of a different mind set. It seems she was sorry after all for the “slug you” reference. Now a group of educators wants the old lady to resign, saying she sets a bad example for the kids. Well I don’t think a resignation is coming. She is defiant, and will not succomb to pressure from those out to get her. So the citizens of district 7 will need to step up to the plate and send her packing in november. She is not entitled to that position, and if the voters reject her and a few others on the board, it will show that they do want reasonable and competent people representing them. If they send her back, then we know exactly what to expect not only from the board, but from the entires system down to the parents and the students.
On to the second article I read today that was, for me, far more disturbing than a slug happy board member. It was a post on the AJC Get Schooled blog here. Basically, it was a letter written by someone who could not understand how a person could graduate from high school with honors, and have what is at best a fifth grade education. Now I do not know if the writer of the e-mail was genuine in her account of a student graduating with a fifth grade education but the subject of the e-mail was relevant and factual. The fact is, this has been happening for quite some time. I have seen this for some 15 years starting with my nepews, and going down the line to other family members, and the children of close friends who are willing to talk about their childs educational success and failures. When my oldest nephew was in 5th grade, my wife and I would tutor him, because his mother asked us to help him. So we spent three days a week helping him with his various subjkects. neither of us are educators, but are well versed in our respective fields, and felt we could make a difference. Over time, I started to realize that he had not gotten the basics of reading or math. To him reading was not comprehension and the abilty to explain in his own words what he just read, for him it was his ability to pronounce the words. He was never pushed b anyone, at home or school, to read critically. The same went for math. he never learned the process of how to solve equations, or solve a word problem, so By sixth grade he was woefully behind. In fact, one of his teachers told me during a parent conference, ( we were asked to attend by his mother) that he was on a third grade reading level. What was disheartening, was that he got as far as he did not knowing how to read or do basic math. He eventually graduated from a DeKalb county high school with a diploma. When he took the SAT as a senior, his scores were quite low. He was accepted into a two year college, where he flunked out as a freshmans and was put on academic suspension. He now attends a technical school. The bad part in this process is that from day one the entire system failed him. His family did not prepare him for school at an early age, the school system passed him along to keep him from being a burden on their resources, and society has turned a blind eye to him and so many children who are leaving school without basic comprehension skills. This is a sad state of affairs. If our children are unable to read at an advanced level, or understand complicated arguments or questions, how can they possibly compete for the high wage highly technical jobs that are sure to be the future on this planet.