Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Primed for Failure

I'm a firm believer that schools are a lever by which we can change much of society. Education provides many of the tools that will help individuals plan their own course in life. However, we can't just plop a kid down for 6 hours a day in a classroom and expect that to overcome all obstacles. School is great, but we can't expect it to work miracles.

I'd be curious to hear what the no-excuses idealocrats have to say about last Saturday's article in the New York Times about immigrant high schoolers who are just not receiving their first ever formal education. The story opens by talking about an 18 year old Liberian girl who last year entered school for the first time. Think about that. In terms of school-based skills, she's essentially a kindergartner who's thrown into a high school setting. Is she supposed to be able to pass a regent's exam by the end of the year?

The killer for me is that "state education officials do not offer a suggested curriculum, provide any additional financing or track their progress. Last year, New York City provided ... about $165 extra per person; they are entitled to the same extra services as others who are still learning English, but nothing more." That's just ridiculous.

It may or may not be fair to expect schools to overcome these kinds of challenges. Let's assume that because we don't have anything better, the responsibility falls on the schools. If that's the case, then we need to make sure that schools have the support they need to provide the support that the kids need. This holds true for whatever background the kids may be coming from. If we just dump kids into the school system and say "deal with it" then we're setting the schools up for failure. That's not in anybody's interests.


NYC Educator said...

It's not only kids like that getting nothing from the system, but kids who've been kicking around for years who haven't yet learned to read. I've identified a few kids like that who were dumped into my ESL classes, though they were verbally proficient in English. What I was offering was absolutely not what these kids required.

As for the English Regents exam, it's not only unsuitable for the kids you mention, but for all ESL students. It's designed to test minimum competency in native speakers, but newcomers are often deprived of instruction in practical English so we can prepare them for this test, without which they can't graduate. I usually volunteer to teach this, since someone has to, but it's a preposterous use of both my time and that of the kids.

John said...

I think you're touching on an excellent point. The system sets very high standards for all students (which I'm not necessarily opposed to), but then doesn't provide the resources to actually achieve those standards. It's not that ESL kids are always going to be unable to pass a test on English competency. It's that we can't drop someone from another country into America and expect them to speak English as well as the natives without massive interventions that just aren't provided.