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Let me explain to you, briefly, why this particular teacher (me) has a bad attitude today. Check out the following SECOND GRADE standards:

Standard 4: Measurement: FLUENCY WITH MEASUREMENT: Understand attributes, units, and systems of units in measurement; and develop and use techniques, tools, and formulas for measuring.

Topic: Measurement Attributes and Units.
Benchmark MA.2.4.1: Measure length using inches, feet, and centimeters.

Topic: Measurement Attributes and Units.
Benchmark MA.2.4.2: Identify appropriate units for measuring length, area, capacity, and weight.

Today, in my EIGHTH GRADE science class, I asked the students to complete a worksheet based on second grade standards. Working in pairs or groups of 3, the students were asked to use a meter stick to measure the length and width of objects around the classroom and then calculate the area, in meters. They had to measure the classroom door, the top of one of the work tables, one of the tiles on the floor, the entire floor area, and the entire wall area.

I know that some of them... okay, most of them... are still having trouble mutliplying decimals, so I expected some calculation errors in finding the areas.


I am not exaggerating. None of my students got correct answers. None of them. Not even the straight-A students. None of them knew how to use a meter stick, marked off into 100 centimeters, to measure something and write the answer in meters.

I clearly asked them for "meters." Over two-thirds of every class (six periods) asked me which side of the ruler they should use. They did not know which side was inches and which side was centimeters. I am not exaggerating even slightly. If anything, I am downplaying the stunning, mind-numbing ignorance exhibited by the students in my classes today.

The work table is about 152 centimeters long, which is 1.52 meters. Nobody got that. Nobody. Some of them got 152 centimeters, but they could not change it into meters. Many of them had no idea how to measure the table, because "the ruler isn't long enough."

Maybe I was asking too much. After all, this:

Topic: Measurement Tools and Techniques.
Benchmark MA.4.4.4: Estimate and measure surface area and volume using U.S. customary units and metric units.

... is actually a FOURTH GRADE standard.

And this:
Topic: Computational Fluency.
Benchmark MA.5.3.1: Multiply decimals up to 3 places and divide decimals by whole numbers.

... is a FIFTH GRADE standard.

But, like I said, I wasn't expecting them all to do the multiplication of decimals correctly... even though they should have MASTERED the concept three grades ago.

Tonight, as I REFLECT on my lesson today, what I would like to see is every HDOE administrator and policy maker, and every HDOE elementary school teacher FIRED! Every last one of them. Why? Because NONE of my students... not ONE of them, was able to correctly complete a simple exercise based on second grade standards.

There is a real problem with Hawaii schools. "Standards based" education is NOT going to solve anything unless the lower grade levels are held accountable for making sure the students are actually achieving standards.

Maybe it's a "leeward district" thing. Okay, fine. Fire the leeward district elementary teachers.

Some of the students knew that area = length x width. But they did not know how to find the area of the door, "because it has width and height, but no length." Some kids were measuring in inches. When I reminded them we were using meters, they asked, "how do you convert inches to meters?" "Turn the ruler over," I told them. "Yeah, but how many inches are in a meter," they'd whine plaintively. Which unit they used for their measurements seemed to be based, not on KNOWING which side of the ruler was which, but rather, on blind chance: which side of the ruler was facing UP when they started measuring. This, too, is not an exaggeration: I had numerous students writing the height of the door as 200 centimeters and the width of the door as 35 centimeters. (The door was 90 centimeters, or 35-INCHES, wide).

These are not remedial classes. These kids are going to high school next year.

I tried this lesson in part because of comments from some of the presenters at the "Career Day" held at the school a few months ago. Several presenters told the students that in the trades classes at Leeward Community College, they were finding that students did not know how to measure, did not know how to use a ruler, and did not understand measuring units.

Somehow, these kids are completing 8th grade without knowing how to measure things with a ruler. The 70% of them that graduate high school probably still won't know how to measure things with a ruler.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad would mark our heights on the wall in the bedroom, and every few months he'd measure us again to see how much we'd grown. He would write the numbers (inches and feet, back then) on the wall along with the date. These students, many of whom will have children of their own by the time they are 15 to 18 years old, won't be able to do that for their own kids. When a new baby is born, the announcement usually has the weight and length. Hawaii students won't know the difference between 21-inches or 21-feet, 21-yards or 21-centimeters. These are just meaningless words to them.

Today was one of the most discouraging, depressing days I have had as a teacher. This was worse than last year when I accidently discovered, at the end of the school year, that only one child out of 27 in my 4th-grade long-term sub class actually knew how to tell time (another 2nd grade standard).

I am very angry about this. I am not angry at the students, however. If the problem were confined to the "slackers" and "goof-offs," that would be expected. But NONE of them understood. My straight-A students couldn't do it. I was literally stunned when the top students showed me their pages full of figures, none of which were correct. I was nearly speechless.

I had one student... one... a barely-manages-a-"C"-average student, who had MOST of the numbers right... but NONE of the decimals. That was the closest I had to a correct paper. Out of 150 students.

This isn't the fault of the kids. It's too widespread, too universal. This is a serious failure on the part of the schools, and on the part of the teachers. Fire the elementary school teachers. They aren't doing their jobs. They aren't even CLOSE to doing their jobs. Half my students read below 5th grade level. None of my students can measure using a ruler. None of my students can multiply if there's a decimal in the problem.

Forget all these "cute" and "clever" lessons appealing to "multiple intelligences" and "learning styles" and addressing "GLOs." Just TEACH THE KIDS SOME STUFF!

I want to see an "all-or-nothing" assessment test at the end of the year for every grade level, from second grade onward, based on "I Can" statements:

I Can: fluently read aloud a sentence containing ten words of two or more syllables.
I Can: summarize the meaning of the ten-word sentence I just read.
I Can: look at a clock, tell what time it is, and explain how many hours and minutes it is until 5:00 p.m.
I Can: measure the top of my desk in inches; measure the top of my desk in centimeters.
I Can: measure the size of the door in feet and inches; measure the size of the door in meters.

And... I Can repeat the second grade until I achieve 100% of the second grade "I Cans."

Rubric: if student does not achieve 100% correct score, student repeats the grade. If fewer than 70% of students pass with 100%, teacher is on probation. If fewer than 70% of students pass for two consecutive years, teacher is terminated, not to be eligible for rehire until all PRAXIS exams are re-taken and passed.

This teaching thing seems pretty formulaic, pretty straightforwards, pretty cut-and-dried, the way it's presented in our education classes. Lesson plans, five Es, five Whys, scaffolding, engaging student interest, it all sounds like it should work. But you know what? You gotta TEACH 'EM SOME STUFF in addition to engaging, appealing, accommodating, formatively and summatively assessing, blah blah blah. Apparently, somehow, the "teach 'em some stuff" bit is lost as the students are automatically promoted through the grades, with lots of "hands-on" creative projects made of colored paper and string in their cute little portfolios all decorated with hearts and stars and stickers and smiley faces to show how much they've "learned."

They ain't learned jack, is what all the cutsey crap boils down to.

What's even more horrifying, if that's possible, is that apparently the parents are so ill-educated that they are completely unaware that their kids are cruising through school without learning anything. The reality, in much of Hawaii, is that the parents neither know, nor care. Apparently the teachers don't see it, either. Or they just don't care.

I can't wait until I reach the "I just don't care" point. Life will be so much easier.

I have postponed completing a massive unit plan assignment for my MAT 531 class that is due Thursday. I will have to finish it tomorrow. I might be doomed. But you know, at the moment I am so discouraged, that I really don't care. Almost.

Which might explain some of the behaviour problems I see in the students. Perhaps, on some level, they really are aware of how much they DON'T KNOW, how much they haven't learned, and how increasingly far behind that puts them. Subconsciously that pressure is there, that impending sense of doom as the "real world" draws closer and they don't have the skills necessary to deal with it. So they shut down, they withdraw, they stop trying and stop caring. I see it in myself, as this project falls due that I really am unclear on (I'm not the only one: most of my classmates are really struggling right now). I just don't want to do it. I know I'm hurting myself by putting it off, I know I'm just making it harder, I know I'm even less likely to succeed by postponing everything and doing a "rush job," staying up until 4am to finish it tomorrow night. But that's what I find myself doing.

What must it be like to be 14 years old and barely able to read, unable to understand the vocabulary in "Harry Potter," unable to tell the difference between an inch and a centimeter, unable to "times" two-digit numbers together, unable to add up the prices of items at the store because they have decimals in them? I guess I'd be giving up too.

I do need to say: thank you, Kendra; thank you, Jasmine; thank you, Kuriimupan-the-Younger, thank you for demonstrating that there are at least a few students who care about learning. And thank you, Kendra's and Jasmine's and Kuriimupan's parents, guardians, caregivers, concerned adults, teachers, and friends, for demonstrating that there are still a few competent and caring adults out there who know and care what their kids are doing, who show an interest, and who encourage learning as an integral part of successful, happy living. On days like this, you are where my thoughts turn, whether you're friends I know, "friends" I've never really met, or "friends" I've only read and heard about, for reassurance and faith.

Okay, enough sappy blathering and enough complex issues tonight. I need to try to sleep.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2006 11:28 am (UTC)
I hardly know what to say. It's like you're one little ambulance in the middle of a battlefield. As hard as it is, lives are being lost out there and you can't save them all. Such a helpless feeling.

I taught "at risk" LD and MMR 8th and 9th graders for 15 weeks (my practicum) Your tale reminds me a little of that experience: so much damage to repair. Your educational strategy has to be task breakdown, more task breakdown, and more task breakdown . . . providing the most basic tools for success, and hoping that a few students haven't given up yet.

Thanks for the pat on the back re: parenting. What you're doing is harder . . . far less immediate rewards.

As I've said to you before, starting the chain with the first two links takes the most skill, and yields the least impressive result. And re-starting a chain with bent links is that much harder. Over and over, you are re-starting chains. Those kids need you. And they are the lucky ones to have you :)

May. 31st, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
Task breakdown and more task breakdown. That is such practical advice. Analyze, strategize, and break it down into realistic, specific goals. Thank you, this helps me as I begin to prepare for the summer school math class I'll be teaching.

And nothing is harder, in my opinion, than raising children effectively. It's a lifetime commitment with no weekends off. (Well, okay, you finally had one two weeks ago, but, you know....)
May. 31st, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
Lighten Up
Thanks for the excellent post. I, too, have been thinking about the sad state of affairs you describe in our education system.
One recent thought (and I mean recent, like an hour ago) is, “What becomes of a State by the people, when the people are ignorant?”
Another, “Can the divide between human reason and human ignorance ever be spanned?”
Lastly, “Do I have the patience, tolerance, and fortitude to try and narrow that divide?”
Although I love laboratory research, I think the more important needs lie in education.
I am sometimes frustrated by this sad state of educational affairs, but I am somewhat consoled by the internet. You see, it has brought to my attention a light in this mucky ocean. You are this light. Just know that there are other lights trying to make a difference, I have seen them, and just by trying, they, and you, do.
Stay lit, dude.
May. 31st, 2006 10:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Lighten Up
Thanx for the words of encouragement. I agree completely with your comments about the internet. Without the internet, I wouldn't have your help, nor that of pastilla, or any of the other people and resources I am able to draw upon, both for practical classroom ideas and for inspiration and support; and then, of course, there's the value in just having a place to vent!

I find it so frustrating trying to decide where to begin. There's a lot of "refreshing" I need to do for myself, to get back up to speed in some of the content areas. There's a lot of "cool stuff" out there to teach students, but there's a lot of "basic stuff" they really need to understand before they can tackle the "cool stuff." Particularly challenging for me is integrating the "basic stuff" into the "cool stuff." I know that it's possible. I need to work to overcome my personal limitations -- I'm somewhat of a "linear thinker," I like to know the basics before I move on to complexities. Students, in general, are not so patient. They want "action." This is a learning experience for me, too, as I try to figure out how to approach them, how to engage them, and how to teach them "basic stuff" either disguised as or integrated with "cool stuff."

I think about the "State by the people, when the people are ignorant" fairly often. What happens is the elite, the wealthy, and the powerful become even more elite, wealthy, and powerful. The rest of us are reduced to serfdom, but we're not quite informed enough to recognize it; or, more frequently, we're boozed and drugged up enough that we don't care. At some point, such a system will have to grind to a halt. That day is still far in the future. There's a considerable amount of wealth and power consolidation yet to take place.

It's worth it to try to be a "light", if only to see it reflected in one kid's eyes. I was talking to my last class of the day about Jasmine Kaneshiro. I mentioned that she'd been eliminated in the fourth round, on the word "obtundent."

"Obtundent," said D-Anne, who rarely pays any attention to anything I have to say. "O-B-T-U-N-(slight pause)-D-E-N-T."

"Why aren't you in the spelling bee?" I said to her as she grinned.

"Nobody asked me," she replied. But she was pleased when I crossed Jasmine's name off the board and wrote "D-Anne."

Whatever it takes to get them, and keep them, motivated.
May. 31st, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
I read about half of your post.

Education, not just in the US, but as a whole is unbelieveably screwed.

For instance:

I have recently started working at a school as an ICT Technician. It's not an amazingly well paid job, but it does have generous holiday time.

The school itself is terribly behind the standards in Computing. It is the duty of the network manager and indeed myself to improve this, but it can only be slow on a tight budget.

But get this -- the LEA (That's local education authority) who sponsor a certain amount of (taxpayers) money to schools in the UK want to put a several million pound investment in IT into the local area schools.

Thats great! What EXACTLY do they want to do though?

Answer: They want to build a Virtual Reality Suite.


Here's a raincheck: Reality is what they virtually have no grasp of!

This school is running on aging PC's, why even my desktop PC here is faster than the schools fileservers, which is supposed to dish up files to thousands of students at any one time. A million pound investment in this area will ensure top of the range servers, desktops and network gear for the school. But no... They want a virtual reality suite.

The question is:
Where is Virtual Reality applicable in business and/or modern day life?

The answer:
It is not.

I challenge anyone to mention where VR has been used other than for recreational purposes (read: games) or "education" *COUGH*.

Yes, they want our kids to play a game. What sort of educational values will they glean from it?

Will they learn how to count? No.
Will they learn how to spell correctly? No.
What about learning how to normalise a database? Not a chance.
Can they even learn a different language with it? Not likely.

It is a million pound waste of tax payers money. Thank you dumbass government.

And what about us? The ICT Techs? We have to install and maintain this beast. Oh did I mention our lovely girls school (which has some troublesome students) has to share it with the all boys school (hell on earth) next door?

They'll rip it apart in a week. No... A Day.
A full time technician bouncer will need to be hired to ensure the place doesn't get demolished.

Who makes these decisions? And WHY?

We had to administer an IT SAT exam -- using poorly written VB software which crashed all the time, the exam board forces us to do so. Tell me this -- whats wrong with pen and paper?

I did all my exams using pen and paper and I'm insanely computer literate.
Furthermore, the exam itself was barely applicable to real computing. Heck, making them produce files in Microsoft Access, Excel and Word would've been better.

I swear, the testing software must've caused them more frustration and confusion than it would've taught them anything useful.

Also, why do none of the IT teachers bar ONE (who started work the same time that I did) know nothing of computers?


The head of ICT came in and asked us what a CSV file was.
I mean she's a nice person and everything, but how can someone be teaching computing when they don't know how to use a computer themselves? The mind boggles.

The students tend to be somewhat smarter than their teachers, and this is worrying. Theres a few teachers who know their stuff, but my god -- its truely terrifying to think that these people are educating the next generation....

Perhaps the students should be training the teachers?
And you say that your students can't even measure?

I needn't say more.
May. 31st, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)
You needn't say more... but feel free to continue! I'm laughing and crying at the same time. Your current situation is slightly more absurd than the situation where I work... but it sounds so typical of administrators. They want something "showy," they think that will illustrate how wisely they're squandering... I mean investing... the taxpayers' money. A new desktop computer looks pretty much identical to an old desktop computer, so there's nothing the imebiles in charge can see, nothing to make them feel good about themselves.

All I want my school to do is upgrade OS9 in our classroom iMac to OSX. It's fast enough, it has enough memory. OS9 won't handle much of the current internet content.

"Oh, but, we can't because... blah blah blah." You must be going flat out crazy some days, working inside the IT department for the school system. Yeah, when the teachers know less about the computers than the students, and the students are borderline illiterate themselves... pretty scary stuff.

My students can't measure the size of a tabletop using a ruler, but they can set up a MySpace account and personalize it using HTML code. The teachers can't do that, which is why they fear MySpace. IMHO.

You're so right about the boys having the million pound project torn to pieces in short order. Yes, the bouncer would be a necessity!

I'd like to hear more some time about the life of a long-haired, dance-gaming, rave-dj IT tech working at an all-girls school. You must be pretty popular amongst the students!
Jun. 1st, 2006 05:59 am (UTC)
Haha the girls don't know what to make of me. Some of them scream when I go by, others try to wind me up about my long hair, and some are nice and talk to you normally. I don't let that get to me though.

But yeah, the kids definitely are wiser than the teachers IT wise, the curriculum is so messed up its unbelieveable.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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