Expectations, success, and responsibility in education

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Today we all expect our children to go to school and we expect a quality education be provided for our children.  However, what expectations do parents and society have for our schools and teachers?  As a school psychologist for 20 years, it’s been my experience that their expectations are disparate and vary greatly.  Some parents aren’t parents, they don’t raise their children – you can’t even get them on the phone, and they expect the school to take care of everything.  This could be viewed as one extreme.  At the other end are parents who do the right things, they make their children behave, do their homework, and do good in their school work.  Of course, there all kinds of variations of parents in between.  Although they may seem different they all have one thing in common.  They all have unrealistic expectations for the schools.  You may be thinking, well the parent who is a good parent doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.  They are doing their job, aren’t they?  Yes they are doing their job with their child(ren), but as members of our society they expect the schools to educate all children the same.  It’s parent’s tax money and their votes for politicians and administrators that are making laws, regulations, guidelines, etc., that obviously aren’t working.  We continue to buy into the standard rhetoric of more money, more staff, and more whatever is deemed necessary.

Then there are the expectations of the schools.  You could pick up any schools or districts policy and procedures manual and find a great deal written about how children will behave, the discipline procedures, and other such expectations.  But something is not working.  It may look good in writing, but in many cases there is very little teachers and principals can do.  Procedures and policies don’t really cover things like kids who chronically don’t care how they do in school, don’t try, don’t come to school rested, don’t listen to their teacher, and don’t have parents who care.   How can a rule or procedure cover such critical factors that cannot be measured and fit nicely into a curriculum, program, or intervention?  Teachers, principals, schools, and districts have their expectations but then they succumb to the realities of our children, parents, and society.

What is our criterion or definition for learning or success?  Is getting enough credits to make it through twelve arbitrarily chosen grades success?  After all, the practice of having twelve progressive grade levels the way we do was not based on research or good educational reasoning.  It was the brainchild of manufacturers around the turn of the century who thought education should work like an assembly line, and when you reach twelfth grade you are “done.”  What level of reading for all children do we determine to be success?  Should all children be reading at the sixth, ninth, or twelfth grade level when they graduate?  And whatever grade level you pick, why?  Does all children achieving at a certain level on a state or national test determine success?  If this is the case, then who decides what level is success?  Grades are very subjective, as I’m sure many parents have learned to their dismay.  Their child makes it to the twelfth grade, having received good marks, and is reading at a third grade level.  The same is true of credits.  I have seen plenty of kids who made it to middle school and immediately were sent to the special services team because their skills were so low.  Looking at their files, I saw that they had received decent grades all along.  Retention: who gets retained and why?  The research tells us not to do it, but we keep doing it, even at the middle school level.  Somehow we think doing more of the same thing, that didn’t work before, is going to work another time around.  So because a child didn’t achieve some highly subjective grades, were not going to pass him on to the next arbitrarily chosen grade level?  Special education: who gets in and what is success for them?  The definitions and criteria for who has a special education eligibility are highly subjective, as are the goals that determine success.

Parents’ expectations for the schools vary, and usually are unrealistic.  The schools have their expectations, but have to adjust them to the realities of the children they are required to deal with.  Success is an elusisve concept and practice, with life-altering consequences.  Can we all get on the same page?

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