Sunday, July 25, 2010

Smart and Bored in School

Posted by Chris at 1/25/2009 11:28 AM ...

In what is no big surprised to anyone with two brain cells to rub together, Ron Matus of the St. Pete Times found that the top 10% of kids in Florida schools are bored stiff because No Child Left Behind focuses only on the bottom rung of school achievement. While Matus actually spoke to some of those students at a science competition at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, the Fordham Institute has been studying the effects of NCLB since 2002. It's 2007 report found that NCLB improved test scores for kids at the bottom levels of academic achievement, it ignores the huge swath of kids in the middle, and those at the top might as well not exist.

No, shit. Really? This is a surprise to anyone?

The idea behind NCLB is to improve standardized test scores in a narrow set of skills for students that did not have those skills. Since schools are heavily penalized by State and Federal governments if test scores don't go up, they have little choice other than to teach to the bottom to pull up the scores. This penalizes the kids in the middle rungs, who need more than just the basics. The kids on top? They've always been bored, always needed to be self-motivated, and almost always ignored by their schools. Trust me, I know.

While I wasn't in that top 10% Matus is talking about (smart and bored, not self-motivated), going to school was boring as hell due to low expectations in many arenas. Multiple choice history tests based on nothing more than reading the text book? Five paragraph essays based on Young Goodman Brown or The Little Prince? A biology class in which we spent more time doing biologically-oriented word find work sheets than doing biology or even listening to class lectures. Mindless repetition of math problems in Algebra II? Hell, math is not my strong suit, but I was fine on tests. I just hated the boredom brought on by thirty Algebra problems each night.

My point is this, and it is obscured by the table of statistics from the College Board that Matus included with his article - where the system was failing the kids at the bottom of the academic achievement ladder, it is now failing everyone else. The college-bound folks in the middle aren't learning the critical thinking and note-taking skills they need to succeed at the next level, and they aren't learning to find information on their own. They are used to getting everything spoon-fed to them and getting praise for average work. The kids at the top have to be extraordinarily disciplined to continue learning and succeed. We have to find a way to reform this nonsense we call primary and secondary education so that all kids get the education they need and deserve.

Otherwise they end up like one of my junior high friends who was ridiculously bright, but received not parent or teacher guidance and motivation. He decided that boredom was best relieved with homemade explosives and lost three fingers. No college for Larry, just a dead-end retail job at an electronics store.

We can't afford more Larrys.

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