New Math

A few weeks ago I was summoned to the principal’s office to discuss my failure rate.

I knew it was high. When the first grading period ended, of 22 my students were failing English. Things got better, though. By the end of the fourth quarter, only 13 were failing — still too high, but only unreasonable in the fantasy land where we achieve 100% proficiency by the year 2012 — right before the apocalypse takes place.

But the conversation we had was a wake-up call for me. I explained what I had done to improve things – calling parents, cutting deals with students, etc. I didn’t explain how ridiculously easy it is to pass my class; that would have been defensive. But you can be sure that anyone who is failing my class has exerted very little effort.

The awakening happened about three minutes into the interview. I noticed that his data did not include all my classes. My total failure rate is not 36%, as he said, but 31%, because the class he overlooked had only two students failing, a 10% failure rate for that class. 31% is nothing to brag about, but I pointed out the omission.

“Hmm,” he said, shaking his head. “Well, if we add in the 10%, that gives you 46%. Nearly half of your students are failing.”

I was stunned. Was this some kind of New Math? The same kind of math, perhaps, used to calculate other things – graduation rate, adequate yearly progress, proficiency test scores?

Before I could think of anything to say in reply, he stumbled on. “Well, make sure that you’re calling home, etc., etc…”

This was the moment when I knew that all was lost. More

Sorrows of the Liver (and other depressing information)

It has been proven that drinking too much alcohol can give you Sorrows of the Liver. I learned this from a research paper written by one of my students. I consider myself fortunate; while there have been a few mornings when my liver was a bit gloomy, most of the time it handles my bad habits without getting depressed.

This week most of my sorrows have been caused by bad grammar, incorrect word usage, and failure to properly cite sources. It’s been a long week.

Sunday: I read a letter to the editor in our local paper that makes me bang my head on the counter a few times. “Why are teachers paid so much? Our schools are terrible. If students don’t learn, their teachers should be fired.”

Don’t worry; this is not about to be a rant. I do point out, however, that no one is blaming doctors for the obesity epidemic.

Monday: When I arrive at school, the towering pile of research papers is waiting on my desk. What makes my liver sad is this: I have sixty students in my two English classes; thirty-one research papers were handed in. Thirty-one!

That number correlates closely with my failure rate for those classes: 58%. So far I haven’t been called into the principal’s office, but I expect that conversation to take place soon. One of my fellow English teachers has already been scolded for failing too many of his students, and his percentage is lower than mine. How do you pass a student who hands in no work? Perhaps we should stop making them read and write. More

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