Throughout this conversation, I’ve been struggling with how to articulate my concerns.
And I find myself feeling like I’m overreacting to new communications from the school system. I take a moment to breathe and try not to respond right away.
So, I’ve taken a week or two since the latest communication from Freeport High School’s Principal, Jennifer Gulko, to breathe and try to figure out what about it caused me to feel agitated.
I think it comes down to one word. Or at least, that’s the start of it. Understandable. The principal talks about making the grading “understandable” to parents. As though the concept of 1-4 is difficult. And maybe other parents aren’t bothered by this wording. But, to me, this is a subtle, patronizing, dismissive choice of words. It’s meant to diminish my argument. It’s meant to distract from the actual conversation and lay blame at the parents’ feet as our inability to comprehend something.
But why do many parents question proficiency based education? Because we have a simple question — what are the benefits of proficiency-based education? It’s not that I don’t grasp the concepts. On paper, I get the points. I understand them. I understand the 1-4 grading system. I simply don’t AGREE with it — and I don’t see most of the benefits. I didn’t argue and fight for a return to 0-100 grading because I couldn’t comprehend how 1-4 works. I questioned its efficacy to do what they claim it does. I’ve asked (formally) at least half a dozen times — show us the research, show us the results, explain HOW this benefits our kids. I don’t want the “this just makes sense” argument that I keep hearing variants of… Because it doesn’t appear to help in testing (Vermont is already seeing falling scores even as they push forward in their own PBE plans). And I have yet to “understand” how some of the core components of PBE, retaking tests, or having no real deadlines, are supposed to help my kid in life. If he goes straight to the workforce, how does teaching my kid that there are no consequences if he fails a test a good thing? Do I expect an employer to say — “don’t ever stress or push yourself on your first test — you can always redo it”? How many employers are happy to get high school graduates who don’t put their best effort forth on the first attempt? And what a disservice to our kids to tell them for years in high school that they can redo most things — only to have them find out in life that there are consequences and you don’t always get a redo? We’re setting them up for failure. We’re coddling them. Something any number of people will already claim today. I find myself regularly explaining to my kid that there are consequences. I actually have the argument with him about getting his work turned in on time to school and his defense is literally “it’s ok if it’s turned in late – he doesn’t say anything.” My kid, in 3rd grade, has already learned that this system doesn’t care if he meets a deadline. This is not setting a precedent that I think most employers or college professors would appreciate. Nine more years of no real deadlines (except self-imposed ones, or ones we set in the home) and I’ll have a kid totally unprepared to do well at a job or in college. But maybe he’ll be labeled as proficient at something.
And that seems to be the core of the argument. Have all kids be “proficient” at X things or concepts — and somehow that makes kids ready for the world. But that’s a concept that is unattainable for every kid. There will still be kids who fall through the cracks, kids who won’t graduate. This doesn’t help them. It holds them back. I’m thankful the diploma requirement is gone, because I’ve yet to hear how kids who struggled in 1 out of the 8 requirements and couldn’t get proficient in the standard amount of time would overcome the setbacks. So, if some kid struggled in a foreign language (maybe due to there not being enough resources and sufficient support in the school system) and couldn’t accomplish that, that kid has to continue with another year of schooling? How does that help the kid? Maybe that kid wants to learn a trade. Maybe become a hairdresser. Or a machinist. Maybe that kid got all 3s in this system and, even a couple of 4s in some — but couldn’t grasp French. Kept getting 2s. How in the world does that system justify holding a diploma at ransom from him/her? How does that kid explain to future employers or a trade school or college, that it took them 5+ years to finish high school?
And, at the core of this, is the argument that “proficient = better (than our existing standards).” But little to no research (done by those outside the consultants and companies that depend on its implementation for their own financial survival) to substantiate this. And the crux of the issue is defining proficient. With the added complexity of districts individually defining every little rubric that is supposed to help quantify whether a kid is “proficient” at something. It sounds like this is a perfect system where someone can sell tools and coaching and software to help teachers and schools accomplish this. Because we’ve just removed the teacher’s ability to teach. We’ve now given them a checklist (that, yes, maybe they helped create) for every aspect of their teaching. Gone is some of the nuance of teaching. How do we expect kids to ever get inspired by teachers and learning if the teachers start to lose their inspiration and control over their own classes? I’m not going to pretend that all teachers have the same enthusiasm and zeal for their profession. But for those who truly love(d) teaching for the sake of molding and shaping minds and getting kids to think and question and figure things out, how many are we driving out of the profession by giving them a checklist to govern their plans? And how many do we possibly lose because we now expect them to spend all their time fitting learning into a check box for each skill for each student, and reporting every bit of it in a grading system? And how many will be overwhelmed with providing retakes? Or trying to keep track of multiple lesson plans as we push for personalized learning at every kid’s speed?