In an excellent series, the Oregonian looks at high school underachievement. While elementary students are doing better than ever in Oregon, high school students aren't improving.

Many students don't think they're learning anything valuable in school -- and they may be right. The Oregonian writes:

At Barlow High, students in English, biology and Spanish classes regularly listen to music on headphones rather than their teachers, even after instructors stop class and ask them to turn off their compact disc players.

Ask them? What ever happened to confiscating contraband?

Here's an AP history class at Beaverton High:

The lesson is lively but constantly interrupted. Someone pops open a can of soda. A boy eats his way through potato chips, Doritos and a sandwich. Two students come to the door with prom pictures. A dozen students enter and leave during the period.

The Oregonian also profiles three students who are sliding through school. Even the college-bound student has decided to take easy classes so he can get As and Bs without breaking a sweat.

Foreign Math

A Soviet refugee, now an American scientist, is trying to start a charter school in Massachusetts to teach a rigorous math and science curriculum. The locals are suffering from "patriotic pique," reports the Boston Globe.

"I believe kids in elementary and middle school are just wasting their time in school. Everybody feels they're supposed to have fun," said (Julia) Sigalovsky, 48, a Sudbury resident. "They're capable of learning at a much higher level."

. . . Critics have distributed fliers accusing outsiders of denigrating their schools by saying an American education is inferior to that of Russia, China, and Germany. At a forum last week, assistant superintendent John Petrin demanded to know, "Where's this proposal coming from? Where is the need? It's coming from the outside."

Outside ideas? Oh, no!

The proposed school for grades six through 12 also is being criticized because it might attract the best students but be too hard for students with learning problems.

Naked Math

"Naked math"  -- computation questions that aren't phrased as story problems -- will make up 20 percent of the new state test in Illinois. Critics say students won't be asked to demonstrate reasoning abilities. Here are some third grade examples, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:

The Naked Math example:

What is the missing number in the following pattern?

94, __, 106, 112

A. 96

B. 98

C. 100

D. 102

 

'OPEN RESPONSE'

On Monday, Joe asked his mother if he could go with his friends to the movies on Friday. His mother gave him a list of chores and said he would have to earn the $5 to buy the movie ticket.

Babysitting his sister: 1 quarter an hour

Dusting: 1 nickel

Making his bed: 2 quarters

Washing dishes: 1 quarter

Cleaning his room: 1 quarter

Taking out the trash: 1 quarter

Sweeping the floor: 1 dime

Folding clothes: 1 dime

Make a plan for Joe to earn $5. List the chores he will need to do each day. Explain in words how you found your answer and why you did the plan the way you did.

Scoring open-ended questions costs a lot more money than naked questions, and provides no additional insight into students' ability, according to state officials. It also penalizes students who can do math but aren't fluent in English.

What Ever Happened to Murphy Brown’s Son?

Too many boys today are growing up to be wimps or barbarians, writes a charter school principal and ex-Marine in the Claremont Review.

The old form of discipline was quick, direct, clear-cut, and effective. The new non-punitive discipline is time-consuming, indirect, muddled, and ineffective. Every breaking of the rules requires a long discussion in which the boy gets to express his "feelings" and therefore make his case. This new form of easy discipline actually compromises the boy's moral growth in several ways.

First, he receives no real punishment for wrongdoing and is not made to feel shame. The absence of these traditional external and internal sanctions inhibits his development of self-control. Second, rather than truly learning to be responsible and to accept the real consequences of his actions, he learns to be litigious and whiny. Worst of all, to the extent his father is involved in all this nonsense, he sees the man who should be his master and mentor not as an authoritative figure who imposes order and dispenses justice but as a craven coddler who shudders to injure an errant boy's self-esteem.

He's a bit overwrought, but it's worth a read.

From Self-reliance to Self-esteem

Emersonian self-reliance  -- based on self-knowledge and the study of poetry and heroes -- has been replaced in our schools by inflated self-esteem, writes Michael Knox Beran in City Journal.

(Emerson) believed, as most Americans do, that there is in every man a restless desire to better himself, along with an innate desire to transcend unworthy impulses. The modern school of self-esteem, however, sees no need to transcend, no reason to make what Emerson called an "effort at the perfect" to find out the best and strongest places in one's soul. The modern proponents of self-esteem argue that the undeveloped self, however callow, should be praised as it is. In contrast to Emerson's work, the primitivist ethic of the self-esteem movement promotes not the discovery but the abdication of the self.

The long essay also praises the McGuffey readers and disses John Dewey.

Drool

Boy bashing  is fashionable. Girl bashing remains socially unacceptable.

I don't think that boys fail in school because some girl is wearing a T-shirt that says, "Girls rule, boys drool." I just think it's rude.

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

Respond to the Writer