Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Posters Don't Fix Problems

I teach high school mathematics to at-risk urban students in the United States. As I've discussed before (click here, here, here or here), that pretty much means most of them are not coming to school when it's [insert excuse here]. The current popular excuse is, "It's cold outside."

Historically, I would have to disagree with that statement, as NYC has really not been that cold so far. Whatever the excuse, the New York State Regents Examinations are next week and that is just bad timing. A failing grade in a high-stakes exam such as the Integrated Algebra Regents will prevent a student from graduating.

Pop quiz: How do you ensure at-risk students permanently become statistics?
Answer: As a state, require exams whose results determine whether a student will graduate.
What also isn't helping the situation is a poster like the one shown below. This gem of a motivational poster can be found on my school's hallway right outside the assistant principal's office.

Okay, obviously this looks grim. Let me make it worse:
  • This poster has read: "Our goal is to reach 80%..." every month for the past year and a half. We have never made it. Not even close.
  • September has always been our best month since the school opened (two and a half years ago). This is usually followed by a decreasing trend until around March when we can enroll new students. March breaks the downward spiral, but April, May and June usually plummet.
  • What is the point of the last "warning" in the poster? The students who aren't coming don't/can't read it. As a student, if my attendance is less than 50%, I probably lack motivation to come to school. So then, why would I care if the school I am enrolled in closes? Just nit-picking now, but why is "school" capitalized?..
  • If I want to show these results to students, why is there only one copy posted in a random corner of the hallway? Wouldn't it make sense to mass-print this data and hold an assembly to discuss?
  • My school has a dedicated team devoted to attendance. The team makes home visits, phone calls, sends letters home, etc. Even with this man-power, our attendance has always followed this pattern. 
The current "reform" movement in the United States would have you believe data like this means only one thing: teachers aren't doing enough to get kids to come to the classroom. If that's the case, then every single transfer high school must clearly hire incompetent teachers.

And that's where the reformers stop thinking. They refuse to think further ahead. Okay reformers, I'll play your game: if schools are truly hiring incompetent teachers, who is hiring these teachers? The principals! So, by their logic we actually have incompetent principals making very bad decisions at the top. And if that's the case, why aren't we making a bigger deal about incompetent people in charge of a large staff, a large budget, and most importantly, the overall outcomes of our children?

Stepping away from the "reform" movement's logic: what if it's not the teachers' fault? What if it's not the principals' fault? What about the parents? You know, the people who were supposed to instill the value of an education? What if it's the curriculum, as in, what we teach? What if what the state/country dictates is "most important" isn't meaningful to these kids?

Nah, can't be. Let's just put up some posters, use the word "data" somewhere and call it a day.


Anonymous said...

1. Why is the goal only 80%? I think it should read "Our goal is to 100% attendance for January. Let's do it!" Leave the realism at home.

2. They should take out the last line. The kids that aren't coming to school probably would like it to close so they can take a mini-break before moving on to another school.

3. So basically the point of increasing attendance is merely to keep the school open? Hmm, not very motivating.

3. Knowing only 50% of your peers are attending school probably makes you feel better about following the truancy trend.

How about an assembly for the administration on motivational techniques and good attitude?

Anonymous said...

1. to *reach* 100% attendance...

Yo Mista said...

@ Anonymous:

Loved your comment.

1. Completely agree.

2. Yup

3. Sad

4. Most likely.

And to your last point: I wish.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, as always.

Why not raise the stakes and talk about the even scarier fact that most of the students who are attending said school on a regular basis are failing their classes? Most don't do homework or study, but we're supposed to be preparing them for college.


Yo Mista said...

@ Anonymous:
Thanks for your post. A very good point that I hope is being addressed by the powers that be...