Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Cost of Failure: Why failure is not an option

After spending 2 years as a High School, educator/mentor in a Credit Recovery/e-Learning program as well as over 12 years as a public school educator, I have made some observations, some of them disturbing, some of the hopeful. I want to begin by making a disclaimer in that I did not do any absolute scientific discovery and there may be components that are in fact missing. My attempt at improving the well-being of our students and the financial health is at the forefront of my following commentary.

Cost of Failure

Emotional Cost
“Our desires for our future determine what our past would have been.” m.laluna
That idea came to me in 1998 while I was doing an pre-service observation at  local HS. I noted that the achievers were focused, engaged, and goal oriented, with their goal being college. I also noted that the under-achievers were focused, engaged and goal oriented with their goal being in the "moment." Both had a purpose, a goal, but, their goals were fundamentally different. Student “A” had established a habit of completion, most likely an above average passing - mindset. Whereas student “D” or “F” was led to believe that he/she was a failure and not as smart as "A," long before the second or third grade. Far too often this is also associated with minorities or the marginalized populations. Children are indoctrinated into a belief that they are their circumstance and become focused on the failure aspect of society, even their home life. The emotional strain on children and families who fail courses in school is long-lasting. While we cannot avoid it, we need to circumvent it. How do we avoid failure? We avoid failure by focusing our efforts on failure avoidance, individualized instruction, blended learning, and most importantly holistic, the "whole" child, instruction which identifies “Highly Effective,” “Proficient,” “Working.” (it is also time to focus on multiple intelligence and sound research, which was thrown out with NCLB and a push for increased standardization)

Financial Cost
Simply put, when you fail a course, you throw money out the window. While NCLB eliminated the act of “holding” children back a grade, it did not impact the secondary reality. Secondary school, also known as high school, is a credit based approach towards graduation. Many schools have even gone so far as to segregate students based upon what courses they take and how many credits they can cram into a four year period of time.

How many credits a student needs is independent state to state. You can see anywhere from 38 required credits in Michigan, to a proposed 48 in Indiana. According to the NCES, “Nation’s Report Card” students today now need 3 more full credits to graduate than their millennial peers in 1990. Compare that to Baby Boomers and you are looking at the equivalent of almost an additional semester of school. The very people who are governing have been able to do so on less education than they are requiring of generations behind them. This is in fact putting an undue financial strain on taxpayers and families.

Cost Analysis
By looking at an average required courses needed in order to graduate and the annual average cost per HS-student we can begin to breakdown the overall cost of failure. The average cost in 2014 to educate a college student nationally was just over $9,000. While the cost to educate a high school student nationally is just over $11,000. Every district has a different cost per students. Let's take a look at a school district in Indiana, since that is where I reside. This school corporation had an average cost per pupil of $11,000 in 2009. It is currently at over $15,000 per pupil, based upon their own statistics. High School students are required to take 44 to get an Academic Honors diploma. So, divide that over four years. Students need at least 11 credits per year. That breaks down to: $15,000/11= $1,363.63 per credit. Or should they keep the cost to $15,000 over a 4 year period of time, $60,000/44-$1,363.63 per credit, but as you can see, the costs do not stay stagnant. So, every time a student fails a course $1,363.63 is lost. Taking the example from a school where over 450 students failed math in one semester, that school district lost 450 x $1,363.63 = $613,636.36 in funding. That is just one content area. Now multiply that over 4 years, considering the failure rate in the math department remains steady: 4 x $613,636.36 = $2,454,545.45.

In the past two years I have had the pleasure of helping students overcome those failures through a blended, e-Learning approach towards recovery. In each case when given enough time and proper resources they were able to overcome their failure identification and attain proficiency status or higher. The number of credits that my department recovered equals over 800. But, it barely scratches the surface. Many times we see students entering their senior year with credit deficits. The law says that all children must attend school. NCLB attempted to ensure that all would graduate. Without significant changes in education we will not break down the failure fence that keeps our kids constrained in a belief that they are failures.

Why Standardized Testing Does Not Prevent Failure
Standardized testing costs the states over $1.7 billion a year. That is money that could be used to significantly impact approaches that work, that prevent failure. Standardized testing does only one thing: It looks at how districts are doing from a comparative perspective, not individualizing learners or their educators. It is a measurement that has no real purpose.  The information gleaned from Standardized testing could be done in increments of every 3-4 years. Standardized testing should only be used to identify an overall census, not an annual analysis. Rather, money should be used to look at the statistical rate of breakdown in learning bases upon teacher and program efficacy. While I do believe their needs to be checks and balances, the current trend which believes more is more effective, the grim reality is, most of our curriculum is outdated, misses the point of State standards-based curriculum and does not ensure strong pedagogical approaches.

The cost of failure is a huge problem and it continues to plague taxpayers from local communities to the federal level. How do we move beyond an antiquated approach towards educating our children at the same time identifying what the cost is when we fail them.  

Sleep Deprivation and Low Test Scores

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mobile Devices Are Damaging Learner's Attention and Possible Learning Outcomes

‘Such behavior is typical of “behavioral addiction” and “diminishes our ability to maintain attention'. 

After being in education as a professional for 15 years and as a parent well, let's just say, I am now a grandmother, I have seen the trends and identified what works and what does not work. First of all, let me stress, the old belief that ¨I learn better when I watch television. Or, I learn best when I have loud music blaring!¨ Is a bunch of bologna. While there are many people who come up with whatever excuse they can to justify distraction away from a required task, the truth is our brains are wired in particular ways. If you are using a computer with limited data space and you start opening multiple tabs, stream a video and play a game of (albeit free) online poker, the likelihood the system will run slower and possibly even clog up. So it is with the brain. the younger the brain, although flexible, the greater likelihood that confusion will be an outcome and altered understanding will emerge. 

¨Introduce behavioral addiction principals to our young and you have got a lifetime consumer.¨ Whether it is Saturday morning cartoon advertising which convinces every child what toy to beg for, or it is beer distributors giving it away on college campuses, to now the smartphone revolution, our kids have been groomed to be consumers, NOT, producers.

By the time our kids get into sixth grade, we have convinced them that they cannot survive if they do not have their cell phones on. It isn't just the communication with peers that becomes so important. Parental obsession with communicating with their kids is out of control. As a classroom teacher I cannot tell you how many times I have been in competition with Mommy or Daddy as they are disrupting their own kid's learning by texting them appointments, literally arguing with their kids by texting or even asking why they got a certain grade on a test that just showed up in the online grade books. Kids are texting parents in real time about what is happening in the classroom. I have even had student recording and sending incidents in the classroom out to parents. How this isn't a violation of FERPA, I have no idea! Add into all the parental fanaticism that is rampant these days, facebook, twitter, friend to friend texting and you have little to no learning taking place. Don't even get me started on the boyfriend/girlfriend drama! 

¨NO, it isn't okay to just have it on vibrate in your pocket! Turn it off, put it away and enjoy your smarth phone on your free time, which happens to be before school, lunch and after school!¨ I can tell you the vast difference between the learning outcomes of the kids who do not have their cell phones on their person, or who do not have them on. The vast difference between the kids married to their cell phones and those who do not own one is even bigger. Sadly, what I have witnessed is that their is a racial/socio-economic leaning to the cell phone overuse as well. Could that have been the motivation? Keep the learning gap ever widening by distracting our minority and poor kids? 

If you want to improve the graduation rate, literacy, and mathematics, then focus on teaching students to become producers and leave the consuming to non-academic hours. ¨I just had a great thought, but my text alert just went off and I lost it, sorry!¨