Education Not: An Educator’s View of Education in New Mexico - November 30, 2011

"I am no longer working at the college and, as a freelance blogger, am less restricted in making some careful observations and points..."

On Sunday, Nov. 27th, the Santa Fe New Mexican ran a story called “Playing Catch-up,” about the very large number of students at Santa Fe Community College who have to take remedial classes before they can enter college-level classes. That, of course, is depressing, but what is even more depressing is how Santa Fe students compare to the rest of the students in our state. “Seventy percent of first-time, degree-seeking recent high school graduates at SFCC are required to take remedial math, and 65% of first-time, degree-seeking high school grads at SFCC are required to take remedial English.” The “state-wide remediation rate, however, is 47%,” showing that Santa Fe is far above the statewide average in requiring remediation of our students. Now that is a dismal statistic.

The article was particularly disturbing to me, not only for its focus on the preparation of our local schools, but also because I was on the SFCC faculty and staff for over 20 years, and I love the college so much. I also found it to be delicately written, wherein Robert Nott and the interviewees were very careful to not point fingers at any specific aspect of our educational institutions. I am no longer working at the college and, as a freelance blogger, am less restricted in making some careful observations and points, although space limits me here.

First of all, our educational system in this country is failing our students, and our local system is failing. We should not pass students into the next grade who cannot read at a proficient level. We have to stop social promotion. When we continue to pass along students who cannot understand the material they read, it hurts them, it hurts everyone in the class, and the teachers must continually dumb down the material so that the entire class can get it. Our legislature needs to step up, address this issue and end social promotion now.

Secondarily, we need to take a long hard look at appropriate material and workload for students. What are they reading? How much are they reading? How do we determine what they are understanding? One of the problems we faced at SFCC was that students didn’t have a more rigorous education, so that they could enter English and math courses at the college level. Don’t the 65 – 70% remediation rates in Math and English prove that point? In English, we found that students coming from the high schools lacked the critical thinking skills to do the analysis of the literature and essays that we required. Therefore, they must do far more of that at the high school level.

Thirdly, we have to address the overall structure of our educational system. How high does the dropout rate have to get (80% instead of 60%?) before we have to admit that the entire paradigm has to change? Students no longer feel like they can handle 4 years of high school at our local high schools, so, for varying reasons (often boredom), they drop out. Obviously, the 4-year paradigm (under the present system) is not working.

My approach is radical, but workable. I say, start cutting out all the fillers in high school: all the pep rallies, focus on sports activities, innumerable ‘soft’ classes (like Popular Culture, Gender Issues, History of Rap, etc.), and focus on Reading, English, Math, Science, Economics, History. If students would take core classes only, have appropriate homework and testing, and do a full school day, we could graduate them in three years. Everything else in the world has sped up at a rapid rate during the last 50 years, so why not speed up high school and make it count? It can be done, with careful thought and planning, and it would be something that adolescents today could swallow. My belief is that they would apply themselves and finish the three required years of high school, and graduate with pride.

That fourth year, through which students now reluctantly tread (or don’t), could be a ‘gap year’ before college, in which they develop work skills, learn life skills (like keeping a bank account, managing money, develop a work schedule, help out at home, volunteer where needed, read books!) and apply to colleges. If students had struggled somewhat in any one area, they could attend community colleges to brush up on their skills or earn some college credits.

The title of my blog is “Times Are A-Chang’in”, which, in this case is ‘times are a-chang’in-not. The times are changing in every other aspect of the rest of our society, except in our failing educational system, which is never-changing, in a big way. The definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We are there.