Students do better where there are expectations and discipline — gee, you think?

Gee, if you have some discipline and you have  (great)  expectations or requirements to learn students tend to do better than if not. And students actually prefer to have those expectations put upon them.

I don’t really know if that is true, but it seems to be.

What brought this to my mind was a story I saw in the CBS Evening News. It was about a charter school in Harlem that seems to be having good results because there is discipline and tough requirements, such as reading 50 books per year. The story was short on details, and I looked it up on the web and did not get any more details. But it seems like a fairly simple premise — you have to have some expectations and you have to have some discipline — oh and you have to have teachers willing and able to work in such an environment. The story said this school only hires motivated teachers and then gives them support — but the story was short on details, like I said.

We get these stories from time to time. A few years ago there was a similar story about a teacher in Chicago. In both of these cases these were in schools with a predominantly black enrollment, the concern seeming to always be that minorities are falling behind.

But public education or the problems it faces is not about minorities. It‘s about everyone, regardless of race, creed, or color.

There probably is a lot of learning taking place in public schools each day and no doubt great things are happening here and there. And as my mother is fond of saying: “a good student can do well despite teachers (or something like that).”

I shouldn’t have used quote marks — that was just a paraphrase. But what she would say is basically good students strive to learn whether their teachers or schools are good or not.

But certainly it would help if the teachers and the schools were up to the challenge.

There are all types of excuses (and some have validity), such as low pay, lack of parent interest, reduced school budgets….

The sad fact is that, at least here in California, the expectations for first through twelfth grade have not been terribly high for decades.

I was always puzzled why at least one young man I knew in high school actually flunked — didn’t graduate. I mean, like Woody Allen said: “half of life is just showing up”. That’s pretty much the way it was when I was in high school, and you didn’t even have to show up every day.

Since then they have tried to institute exams for graduation, but they are quite controversial because students have a hard time passing them.

And really it is unfair to administer these exams after years of low expectations. I think it would take more than a decade of improved curriculum and higher requirements before students would be ready to take these exams.

College professors constantly fret that students come to them unprepared in the basics — you know: reading, ’righting, and ’rithmetic.

As far as discipline goes, while it is not helpful to have unreasonable discipline, there has to be order and strange as it may seem, students want it and expect it, but seldom get it.

I have had some connection with the public schools in the past, having been a parent, a newspaper reporter on the schools beat, and even serving a short and miserable stint as a substitute teacher. On more than one occasion, I have heard students lament the lack of discipline. They not only want other kids to behave, they want to think that someone cares enough to make them behave.

I have a theory about the discipline and teaching problems in public schools. Too often the entrenched establishment just wants to get through it all to retirement and has no interest in rocking the boat, so they pretend everything is fine and do nothing to change it.

And if that is what the public wants, or if the public is too apathetic, things will never change.

But it is a serious problem. Other nations (China?) are looking to surpass us.

The next time you go to buy something on sale at a certain percentage discount, just watch the clerk try to figure out the price without ringing it up on the computerized cash register — they often don’t have a clue.

I believe in public education. Freedom depends upon it. We don’t want to go back to a society where only the well-to-do can get basic or advanced education.

But in far too many public schools we are not getting our money’s worth.


About these success stories: you seldom see a followup. There was Jaime Escalante who had great success teaching algebra to students in the inner city in LA.  At 79, he is now suffering from cancer. A story I just read said that one of his students originally had the goal of being a cashier and wound up being math professor at Arizona State. But you wonder how long the good results last and why what these few teachers do can’t be replicated elsewhere.

P.s. P.s.

And maybe I am behind the times. I understand that the schools my grandchildren attend are pretty big on discipline and that the teachers contact parents immediately if homework is not being done. I can only hope that things are changing.


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