It’s no surprise to me that Colorado’s public school system is not good. I mean, I’m a product of the Boulder Valley School District and I can tell you first hand that it’s not great at preparing one for college, or anything for that matter.
So, it shouldn’t come as a big shock to me that I need to pick up the slack for what my sons are NOT learning about science in school.
My first experience with just how bad things were occurred back in the early 1990′s. I was giving a presentation to some 5th graders when I asked the question: “When did the United States first land a man on the moon?”
No one raised their hand. In fact, most didn’t know we had ever been to the moon, and of those that did know, a substantial fraction doubted that we were there at all (parents were probably moon-landing-hoaxers).
And I have a TON of stories like that.
Fast forward to this last school year. My 7th grade son is a very good student, gets A’s in just about everything. He LOVES science, especially astronomy (imagine that) and he and I have great conversations about what the universe is like and what it’s like to be a scientist. He eats that stuff up so I know he does his best in his science class.
Yet, throughout all of last year, his grade in science was C-. In every report card.
Photo Credit: Lost In Scotland
He was devastated because he knew how important science is to me and he always thought he knew science better than all of his classmates (and I agree with him, I’ve met some of those kids. Let’s just say critical thinking doesn’t come naturally to them).
Getting that C- consistently really took a toll on him, he couldn’t understand what was going on. He really knows his stuff and always scored well on tests.
Naturally, I talked to the teacher to investigate.
It turns out my son IS a good student, DID understand the material and WAS way ahead of the other students in his comprehension of the material.
BUT, he couldn’t organize his science notebook.
“I’m sorry, he can’t organize what?”, I asked.
“His science notebook. He failed the notebook checks. They were worth 100 points each, almost 80 percent of his grade.”, the science teacher calmly explained with a huge smirk on her face.
“What does that have to do with science?”, I asked, but by then I knew what was going on and that I wasn’t about to get anywhere. I left the teacher conference furious.
I’m all too familiar with this kind of teacher. She was a stickler for organization. All materials had to be inserted in the notebooks EXACTLY and each item had to have the name in a certain place, with the information outlined EXACTLY as specified.
Now, I understand the need to teach kids organizational skills, I really do. But to make it 80% of a grade?
What this teacher really wanted was the students to do all of her work for her. She didn’t want to have to search through reams of paper to try and figure out what the student knew. She just wanted to open the notebook and start checking off the existence of items, each containing the proper words so she could get through the grading as fast as possible.
She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in whether or not the kids learned anything, only that the notebooks were in proper order.
This isn’t all though folks, not by a long shot. I mean, I could let that go if that were the only issue because he would get a different, and hopefully more competent teacher next year.
But in Colorado, all students are required to take the Colorado Student Aptitude Test (CSAP), as part of the Leave Every Child Behind Act. This means that all school year until March, but especially from January to March, my kids are getting immersed in that test. The teachers do NOTHING ELSE but teach that test.
Then, after March, when the pressure is off, the teachers pretty much coast through April, May and the first part of June. This is the only time when my kids have a real chance at getting a useful education, and it’s wasted because “Whew, we’re done with that test.”
The CSAP is the only thing that is actually measured, so everything else, like the actual education itself, is ignored.
I simply cannot allow my kids to come out of the education system in Colorado without learning basic science and developing their critical thinking skills. As a parent, I take full responsibility for my kids education, so I’ll do it myself.
So, every Tuesday and Thursday of the next school year, I’ll be pulling my then 8th grade son out of class for his last period (along with his friend and three other homeschooled students) and teaching them science.
How can I do this? Why would the school let me take the boys out like that every week? Because so long as the boys are in class for a certain percentage of the school day, the school gets the credit for them and they get paid. The principal told me that’s all they care about: getting paid. I could do whatever I wanted with them in science as long as they met certain minimum knowledge standards.
Standards they do NOT hold themselves to, by the way.
No problem though, I can meet those just by spending one hour in front a telescope with them.
The two days I’ll have them at home will be spent teaching, discussing and working on science topics with assignments to do on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I picked those two days to meet because of the seemingly infinite number of three day weekends the kids get in school for ‘planning days’ and other holidays. This would minimize any missed days due to that bullsh*t.
So now, I get to spend the rest of my summer planning a science curriculum for my son and his friends. You can bet it’ll be heavy on astronomy, but I can guarantee you that, based on what I’ve seen so far, they’ll be WAY ahead of their classmates by the time I’m done with them.
And I couldn’t care less about the state of their goddam notebooks.