Attention education experts! Why do so many kids graduate with poor reading and math skills?

27/365We’ve all seen the reports on college-level remediation — the high numbers of kids who graduate from high school and are admitted to college with low reading comprehension and math skills. Here, you’ll find the CSU freshman proficiency rates for 2010.

One of my colleagues wants to explore some of the reasons behind this phenomenon. You’d think I would have a clear idea, after covering k-12 for so long, but I’m afraid to say that I don’t.

That’s where you come in — the people who teach kids how to read and/or solve mathematical problems, who supervise or coach those who do, or parents who watch the system closely. As you look at the system from pre-k through high school, where do you see the breakdowns happening, and what are the fixes?

As my colleague asked in his query to his fellow reporters:

Are young kids simply not learning to read? Or does a lack of parental involvement cripple that learning? Is there something later in their education – junior high or high school – that is causing problems? And why are these kids graduating in the first place?

Lastly, what questions would you ask about this issue?

photo from Kelly Schott’s photostream at Flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Mostly Sic

    Youre kidding right? C’mon- before all the usuals get on this mess….

    Go to any urban high school ! Education is a joke and so are black and brown folks who put up with it! How many whites and Asians are we setting up altars for, or have clean our homes or rot in the pen? Oh no….they are at CAL, Stanford, and all those joints.

    Our people dont even know what good education is if it hits them across their thick a**ed heads. Instead, we allow people to tell us we need waldorf and monetssori classes in the hood….come on man!Or we avoid going to challenging schools and programs cause,” …they being racist to my baby!!!” Cmon man!

    We are not coming out of urban schools (charters too ya jokers) prepared for the real deal.

    Is it a set up ? All the while college price goes up……we’re doomedin the present and future. Maybe, blacks and browns..we can go serve China one day as an outsource resource….pay attention ya’ll-

    Katy this is too easy .

  • Steven Weinberg

    If there is a problem, it is definitely nothing new. I remember hearing the same complaints from colleges when I was in high school, and that was 50 years ago.
    What evidence is there that students are less prepared?
    If you remember, Katy, we were at a Tribune sponsored forum a while ago, and I asked the same question to a college spokesperson, and she had no answer.

  • Katy Murphy

    I do remember, and I actually thought of that as I was writing this up. It’s definitely a question worth getting the answer to.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ve heard that kids from middle-class suburban schools in CA are also underprepared — probably to a lesser degree, but still worth mentioning. It seems like, in addition to the caliber of education in some urban schools, there’s a broader problem.

    But to your point, do you think educators and administrators are intentionally dumbing down the curriculum to keep black and Latino students down? It seems more complicated than that. I’d like to know why and how what you’ve described happens, or is able to happen. What about the role of students in all this — their attitudes about learning and school? And teachers?

  • PublicSchoolTeacher

    I can speculate on the problem, but I’d rather muster a solution. I’m a black mother and teacher. I taught my son to read when he was three. I looked up a simple reading book on Amazon, read reviews, purchased the book, and sat down for two years to teach my son to read. It was painful and he fought me, but I didn’t relent. By age six, he was reading well above grade level. When he sits in the car, he looks at books, comics, graphic novels, instead of playing with a DS. This year my focus is math, and once again, I buy workbooks and complete 1-2 pages per week. If more parents invested this time in their children, at least the kids would arrive to school prepared and more confident as learners. If the parents can’t do it, I feel that churches, community centers and libraries should create early literacy programs for children. Small steps make a big difference.

  • Observer


    I was an early reader, reading in nursery school and kindergarten. I was taken out of kindergarten everyday and walked to a reading group so I would not get bored. My parents read to me before bed until I was 6 or so and then they stopped. The books were actually far simpler than what I read to my kids and probably hadn’t changed much from the 50s when my parents were children.

    That was about the extent of parental involvement I got in my education and that was pretty normal back then. Parents did not hover over homework (there was no homework in grammar school), weren’t expected to volunteer several hours a month, certainly not expected to raise funds to pay for necessities….like teachers to teach at their child’s school. We had dinner, we went and did some homework alone, asked for help occasionally, were asked if we did it, went to bed reading and did it all over again the next day. Heck, we even got ourselves up, got our own breakfast, got ourselves dressed and to the bus stop and to school by ourselves. Some did not do well—but they stood out. Most could read and most certainly were much more well spoken. This was a large urban school district in California that had it’s issues, but if people back then had been told it would morph into whatever this is, they wouldn’t have believed it possible.

    I won’t argue that parents now have to be super parents to ensure that their child is prepared to succeed in school today a lot more and I’m sure there’s many valid reasons for that. But the fact that a parent is not doing so cannot be the sole reason so many fail to master the basics. They fail because they don’t fail: they are pushed through with passing grades even though they don’t do the work, don’t even remotely grasp the subject and ultimately don’t care.

    When I was in school, parents of successful students weren’t as involved (except certain Asian parents who did drive their children and still do), but they certainly expected their children to work and try learn. Perhaps what’s happened is a combination of things:

    A litigious society that created an environment where failure is rewarded because it’s safer and cheaper to pass the student than it is to deal with the failure.

    A far less diverse economy, loss of decent paying blue color jobs. College is viewed (and marketed by for profit educational entities) as the only avenue toward gainful employment so these kids that are drastically undereducated still see college as the only option. That’s all they’ve heard: you have to go to college to work. And we offer no alternatives.

    Space. If you don’t move these students through even though they seem to stop stockpiling knowledge all together in middle school (when they’re going through puberty, correlation?) where do you put the kids coming p behind them?

    Personally, I’d like to see school districts not pass kids that don’t earn it. I’d like to see remedial classes after school and summer school. But we don’t fund education enough for the basics.

  • Jessica Stewart

    I think at least part of the problem is overly long lists of standards such that many topics are taught but not to much depth. For example, kids get taught about decimals over and over again through the years but never with enough time or depth for true mastery. So the 7th grade teacher is teaching virtually the same lesson that the fifth grade teacher taught 2 years before because so many kids have forgotten the skills. Basic skills are taught over and over again to the detriment of more complex skills and content.

  • Zinnia

    A couple of things come to mind-just general ideas, not true in all cases:

    Most parents are working parents, more than previously, so there’s less time for parents to teach their children. Many parents work more than one job.

    Second, since the profession has changed, there are fewer veteran teachers. Many teachers are new every year or near new and are learning on the job or subs.

    Also, what comes to mind is that statistic about US students having the highest amount of confidence in the world vs some of the lowest skills. I don’t know how that happened, but it is pervasive.

  • OUSD Parent

    I feel like adults just sweep the problem under the rug. Or they get mad at the kids. Well, what do we expect? The schools are so stripped down and there isn’t much support or encouragement for kids who don’t do well in school. High academic achievement isn’t valued like it once was. For the kids, it doesn’t being smart or getting good grades isn’t valued by their peer groups. It just isn’t cool. The families that leave for other districts, charter or private schools in search of better academic prospects are vilified. Those of us who stay are pressured to accept what little our kids are offered. I see schools beefing up security while closing libraries. What message does that send our kids? I hear over and over from parents how they went all the way through the public schools in CA and they have done great, so what’s the problem? Again, the denial. It’s not the same system that we had growing up here and we owe our kids more.

  • makeitgoaway

    4th grade is the tipping point for reading skills- few catch up after that

    Grade inflation accounts for the disparity between high school achievement and lack of college success? Compare ACT and SAT scores to high school GPA and you will see what I mean.

    Blaming parents? I have plenty of Asian students whose parents do not speak English and do not have books in the home, but the kids read at or above grade level.

    Blaming students? I’m really tired of that. You take them as you get them and inspire them and guide them. Use the fact they have 21st Century skills and access to information by blogging, creating MOOS, using Google Docs to teach writing, using YouTube, Skype, and even social networking. Stop blaming cell phones and music and use it instead.

    Fixes? Early literacy, mandatory library card use, every class teaches reading, not just English, systemic literacy programs from grade school to high school, assign more books, learn academic vocabulary.

    Kumon Math was the best way to learn math for my kids (drill and kill), but today I would flip the classroom and use the Kahn Academy right through high school.

  • wdcrachel

    I think there is an element of the democratization of education. More people are more broadly expected (if not given the necessary institutional advantages) to achieve. College used to be reserved for an elite, the monied class and the exceptional from other social classes.

    Additionally NCLB has led to a reduction of curriculum to reading, writing, and math instruction, eliminating much of the arts, science, and social studies, particularly in elementary school — content areas that might interest students in the learning process. I have read studies recently that said the best way for students to learn to read is not to explicitly teach reading, though some of this needs to happen, but that students learned to read — and think and engage — through learning of complex curricular questions embedded in content.

  • Mostly Sic

    Whats I say?…. The usaul speak on this blog. Working parents?? Tutoting parents? Does that sound like the projectsor foggy bottoms?

    Its the same….those kids and families are bringing schools down because most folks in education (and on this blog) make these false excuses.

    Its a set up…we get placed in bone head classes for our own sake,learn nothing but the fact that our parents can bully school staff, and then get told how the system is meant to beat us.

    Man- this is twisted aint it?

  • Cranky Teacher

    3 things:

    1) Be careful with numbers.

    Don’t forget that as the percentage of students GOING to college has steadily gone up over the past century, the average skill level has predictably fallen. Has the number of good writers, for example, declined in real numbers, or just fallen as a percentage of college freshmen? (I see Wdcrachel says something similar)

    2) The aftermath of empire.

    I agree many Americans think a certain lifestyle is going to come to them just because they are, well, Americans. It will take some generations of declining standard of living to break this overconfidence.

    3) School is a limited tool.

    I’m a teacher. I believe in the power of education. But I’ve always believed based on my experience and that of my peers, that most LEARNING happens beyond the school day.

    I learned to read before kindergarten by following along as my mom read to me.

    I built up a huge vocabulary for the SAT by reading obsessively as an only child before the personal computer and 24-hour kid TV could distract me. I READ BECAUSE I WAS BORED, then fell in love with reading. If you can read Lord of the Rings or Watership Down and understand it all, you will do well on any reading comprehension tests, and your grammar and spelling will naturally improve.

    I learned critical thinking from my family, where everything in the news, world or even family gossip was fair game for dissection, analysis, critique and argument. These habits of mind are not always welcome when dating, but they sure helped to crank out an essay or fill a blue book with opinionated analysis.

    To be fair, I had no learning disabilities when it came to reading and math (although I have been diagnosed ADD for what it is worth), so didn’t need special ed services, and I went to decent (but not great) public schools. And no doubt I learned many important things in school, even though much of it, from chemistry to algebra is totally inaccessible to me now.

    My point? Looking at schools can only provide a fraction of the answer to Katy’s question. How we live our lives, economics, demographics — all these have changed a lot more than American schools, which seem to be a startlingly immutable object.

    And I might add another question to the mix: If we are entering a semi-post-literate (in both language and math) society, primarily because of technology shifts, is it possible that colleges need to transform their mission to adapt to that new reality? Not water down, but change?

  • Cranky Teacher

    Mostly sic: While I’m not sure what “projectsor foggy bottom” is but it sure sounds lively!

    Jokes aside, I get what you are saying about bullying parents who are overprotective of their children. This happens at every level of education, though, as upper-middle class parents in particular are freakish about GRADES.

  • OUSD Parent

    @Cranky Teacher – I agree with much of what you say. I was raised in a similar environment. But I want to call out that public schools used to be the great equalizer. If you put a lot into it, you’d get so much out if it. Those opportunities are harder and harder to find within OUSD although not impossible. But what about those kids who don’t come from literate motivated households where positive learning is supported and encouraged? Kids used to be able to get it at school and it’s getting harder and harder to find that. The affluent and well educated set will always make sure their kids have opportunities. It’s the rest of the kids that I worry about – mine included!

  • Nextset

    The first mistake in public education is thinking that one size fits all.

  • LatinaForEducation

    Being a Latina, I was automatically put in remedial classes in school, without teachers or administrators really taking the time to see what and how much I knew. By the time I was in HS, in a lot of my classes, the teachers would have us watch movies instead of reading the classics, like Fitzgerald, Dickens, Twain, etc., and then test us on the movies. Pathetic, right? I read those on my own, and my parents pushed me to do better. While I agree that our public education system is dysfunctional, especially with minority and less affluent students, the reality is that parents should carry a lot of the blame for today’s troubles. When are they going to be part of the debate on how to improve schools? Parents cannot expect schools and teachers to educate their kids alone…a lot of the work has to be done at home. Encourage reading, encourage curiosity, encourage hard work.

  • Observer

    @#15 Don’t worry. The fact that you wrote that means you already “will always make sure their kids have opportunities”. Honestly, it doesn’t take money, it takes attention. And while that may be the challenge for a single working parent, a lot of single, middle class working parents face the same challenge and do it. Your child does not need a lot of expensive, extra-curricular activities to succeed. There is much available through public libraries, on-line and park and rec centers—the latter: especially in Oakland and there is greatly reduced or free services through park and rec for those that qualify.

    My friend is a social worker and does child advocacy. What she sees when she goes into low-income homes with children in Oakland is the TV is on all day and night, usually not to age appropriate shows. The parent of whomever is in charge is texting or talking on the phone, managing an intricate, active social life non-stop (this is actually one of her biggest challenges-to get “clients” to put the phone down and stop texting 5 different people while she is interviewing them). The household has a revolving door of people coming and going living there or crashing there. Part of her job is to make sure the children are enrolled and attending school. What she sees is they are…when it is convenient for the guardian to do it. There are never books and while there is always a computer or several, their use is exclusive to social networking, youtube and other entertainment uses.

    She is not allowed to say anything to these people about this, just check boxes like this: TV___yes, How many___3, People living in the home__5, family member____unknown, etc.

    What should be done for kids that come from homes like this? Demonizing a child’s family never works.

  • J.R.

    Your parents can push you to excel, or your teacher(on the flipside, adults who have a laissez-faire attitude can stunt your educational growth), but nothing can eclipse high self motivation and hard work ethic of the person . Don’t quit until you make it, just like the Cuellar twins. You are right though, we have too many immature people who have no idea how to parent their children effectively, much less without taxpayer help(yes, parent is a verb).

  • Debora

    I have been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately and have done some research. In the past 15 years or so we group students into groups of 5, 6 or 7 students in elementary school. When a subject is taught, reading for example, teachers will often say – tell your elbow partner what happens next or discuss with your table group the words you do not understand.

    In these cases, one of two things happens – the great reader in the group becomes a pseudo teacher for the rest of the students, or the students get the limited information a student of a certain age would have. It may be more “fun” or “interesting” but studies show that over time it reduces the amount of learning of motivated students and does not help struggling students.

    Also, it works well for extraverts and does not allow for introverts or deep thinking students to learn deeply.

    The second thing is that when we teach reading with books that are not real literature or perhaps an abridged version of a story, students are not able to learn that excellent stories are layered with nuance. The stories for children now have a lower vocabulary level – the difference between A Wrinkle in Time and Hoot, a Newberry finalist.

    Fifteen years ago all students memorized multiplication tables to be able to move on to more advanced mathematics. In urban classrooms it is rare that 80% of the students in fourth grade know their multiplication tables. As they are learning area and volume in fourth and fifth grade, the students without the knowledge of multiplication often do not learn the advanced topics because they lag behind in the multiplication portion.

    Social studies consisted of learning about America in the early grades including the Pledge of Allegiance, our national anthem, America the Beautiful and national monuments. This memorization, along with learning “amber waves of grain” and other phrases extends understanding beyond the self. We have a classroom of students who want us to learn about their cultures and their histories (and I agree that we should), but they will not read Tom Sawyer, for example, because they and their parents have “heard it’s racist.” No knowledge.

    And finally, decades of studies have shown that teen mothers who have not finished high school themselves will have children who have lower intelligence, lower levels of health, less likely to read at grade level at any time in their school careers and are less likely to hold jobs that will earn a standard of living above the poverty line than children born of mothers who have finished high school.

    We need to have teachers teach the subjects and each student demonstrate proficiency – proficiency should not be 70% as it is in many classrooms. Proficiency must be 80% or greater. Students must learn to read before third grade – to make this equitable, students should not enter kindergarten (if we teach reading in kindergarten) until the five and a half years old. We must require students to memorize certain things (addition/subtraction facts, multiplication facts, the national anthem and so on). Memorization builds persistence. Students who demonstrate persistence and grit have been shown to overcome obstacles to learning.

    Cursing simply has no place in an elementary classroom or school campus. Hitting has no place on a school campus.

  • Gordon Danning


    It is pretty tough to answer your question unless we are clear on what “proficient” means. Does it mean “at grade level”? If so, what does THAT mean? Does it mean that the level reached by the average incoming freshman? If so, we would expect 1/2 of them to be under that level, wouldn’t we?

    Moreover, how are they measuring English proficiency? I have a former student who moved to the USA in 8th grade and is now at MIT, but she still has problems with subject-verb agreement. So, if that is what they are measuring, perhaps they need a new metric.

    I could go on and on. None of this is meant to be an excuse for the shortcomings of our schools — I know that many of those shortcomings are very real — but until we understand the problem, we won’t be able to solve it.

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s a really good point. If we’re going to be raising these concerns, we should probably be more specific about the kinds of skills colleges are finding to be lacking in many of their students — is it reading comprehension? explanatory or argumentative essay writing? a certain kind of mathematical problem solving?

    If there are a whole host of deficiencies, I’d still like to explore the causes and possible solutions for the most pressing needs.

  • Nextset

    So many people “graduate” without skills BECAUSE:

    They come from a Caste where there is generally insufficient cognitive ability to master Math and Language. This is genetic. The various members of the caste have different levels of bright and dull – but the cognitive average for the lower performing Caste is (far) lower than the other Castes.

    The issue is no different than the other physical differences found in the various Castes. Indians/Irish and Alcoholism. Blacks/Pacific Islanders and Obesity/Diabetes. Physical differences run in ethnic groups and that includes Cognitive Skills. Individuals within the group may have or not have the difference – but the group averages are clearly charted and well known.

    Do what you can with nurture – nature is always the stronger determinant of what you are dealing with.

    Then we have OUSD, which makes things worse. It appears that OUSD reinforces negative aspects of it’s minority students with Indiscipline. I submit that OUSD and schools like it such as LAUSD are making sure that it’s minority students do worse than they would have in real schools, and worse than previously reported in OUSD decades ago.

    When audited such “schools” will (like Atlanta & DC) falsify the scores, or blame the teachers, or if all else fails pretend the worsening results are due to a lack of money no matter how much money is consumed (Kansas City).

    It doesn’t take more money to have discipline. And it doesn’t take more money to segregate the students into campuses and workgroups by cognitive skill in order to keep each group working at their own capacity and minimize academic interference by the presense of the other groups.

    Good thing the Charters are here to do just that.

  • Debora

    Gordon: In Oakland “Approaching proficiency” on benchmark math tests is 65%. Proficiency is between 70% and 75%. That is a sad state of affairs.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Oakland is only following the lead of the state in setting its proficiency levels. On the STAR 7th grade math test 63% is the lowest Proficient score, so if the benchmark questions are similar to the state questions, 70% is actually a bit high.
    I would prefer if the STAR exam eliminated questions that are deliberately misleading and then set a higher cut-off point for Proficiency, but the state has no plans to do so.

  • Steven Weinberg

    The May 23 issue of Education Week includes an article that may partially explain the difference between high school grades and English readiness results. Brad Phillips and Jay J. Pfeiffer assert that high school courses focus almost exclusively on literature, while the college test addresses writing and analytical skills needed for college and careers (22). When San Diego high school teachers increased the time they spent on those tasks scores increased.

  • Nextset

    Very interesting charts in Business Insider:


    This one charts the decline in number of local government education workers.

    For some time it’s been apparent to me that someone high up in government policy has decided to privatize “public” schooling. One way to do so is to make the public schools run by government workers so bad that even their traditional constituiency will flee.

    The thing is that once the rotten urban school districts are destroyed, the students will be scattered into various Charter, Church and Private Schools including online schools billed as “homeschooling”. The division of students into these different service providers is largely by Caste.

    Thus the Brave New World. We will have a generation moving into adulthood speaking different languages, with different naming conventions, different notions about mating, society and behavior. Like will associate with like, occupations will be determined by Caste, and the twain will not join the same health club, or go to the same movie theaters or restaurants.

    That may sound extreme but in CA it’s already happening. Think of it as real strong market segmentalization. Different stores, different credit cards, different everything.

    There really doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it. Segregation exists because people want it. It’s not a bad thing – it’s freedom of association I suppose. Everybody has choices and they are happily choosing.

    A real good world war with a resulting military draft might bring us happily together again. Otherwise – at the rate we are going our devided societies will not even know each other.

    I just don’t remember this policy shift ever being debated in the legislature.

    We talk of fixing the public schools – OUSD included. I think that we are just spinning our wheels. It’s already been decided at a national and state policy level the urban schools are not to be fixed. Quite the opposite.

    Brave New World.

  • jesse james

    Hey Katy–have you noticed some names of OUSD leadership are changing? More than just in special education…can you give us some updates? Thanks! PS Still waiting the downtown administration report…:)

  • Nextset

    Remember the fake Test Scores among the large black school districts back east? The point of the test rigging was for the school administrators down to the principal level getting lucrative bonuses. Those bonuses were put in place with the specific intent to induce cheating. The reason I say this is the old legal principle that you are presumed to intend the natural results of your actions (whether you want to admit your intent or not – even to yourself).

    A similar syndrome is appearing in urban government regarding crime stats. There’s an article on this in Vdare.Com:


    The point here is rather than to do what works in dealing with the problem the PC Liberals would rather cheat. Both in education and in public safety. It’s in their nature.

    Now can you imagine what Obamacare is going to result in? Fake pathology reports, Fake mortality reports and Fake Public Health Stats…

    It’s in their nature. The whole point of PC is that Dogma comes ahead of people. Damn the people, don’t commit heresy.

    Which is why these large government institutions are incapable of efficiency. As if Lenin, Stalin and all the others haven’t proved it.

    So bring in the charters, and close the urban public schools. Large urban school districts cannot operate in a safe or effective manner anymore. It’s in their nature.

    one wonders what the outcome would be for the Oakland Unified kids if they were in schools run by right-wing ex-military Tea Party types? Would they read and write better, and be more employable by graduation?

  • Public School Teacher

    Nextset: You raise some interesting points that I observe in our society. Socially and economically, we are dividing into a caste system where students of various castes/socioeconomic strati will attend different schools. However, what is shocking to me is the quality of education taught at these “different” schools. As a teacher I can compare curriculum between private, urban public, and suburban public, and one thing that is glaringly obvious is the level of rigor within the curriculum offered at each school. It is academic apartheid. Urban schools focus on testing and remediation. Magnet, private and suburban public will explore more project based learning, enquiry, problem solving and challenging electives. I don’t even think urban charter schools, outside of KIPP attempt to offer curriculum at this level. I sometimes wish there were scholarships to offer urban kids spots at these schools. Or even better, OUSD should offer a Lowell / Magnet high school for its students.

    However, where I do take issue with you is regarding your genetic argument. You remind me of those two theorists, Murray and Hernstein who wrote the Bell Curve. This is dangerous territory and you should be careful. In my opinion, environment,economics, nutrition and socialization play a huge factor in educational outcomes, not one’s genetic makeup.

    Maybe instead of making crass comments, you should share your discipline and expertise with our youth and volunteer in the schools or public libraries.

  • OUSD Parent

    I like what Public School Teacher has to say. I was dismayed when I looked at the public schools in more affluent areas. They were far from perfect but all offered so much more for the students. There were more electives and art and music. The level of rigor was remarkably higher. There was more support. It made me feel scared for our urban kids.

    Even in neighboring Berkeley, with some of the same urban challenges, its Berkeley High still manages to offer so many different programs at all different levels. I see OTech attempting to offer more rigor for the kids who can handle it, but it doesn’t begin to match what kids are getting in other areas.

    I’ve been told that it doesn’t cost that much to test and track kids into appropriate programs. Why doesn’t OUSD do it? Other areas do.

  • Seenitbefore

    @ Deborah (post #20)

    Thank you! If you are not already in a school teaching or leadership position, I hope that you are at least involved in community activism to promote these ideas to the school board and district administration.

    As a teacher, it seems to me that the biggest reason that kids “graduate” OUSD school without the ability to read, write, compute, or problem solve… is because the district has no requirements for students to do these things until they reach the 9th grade level. K-8 classes are strictly social promotion with absolutely no consequences or accountability for/of students who choose not to complete their schoolwork. This leads to a complete demoralization of students who actually DO what to learn because the classroom and the campus is constantly dealing with disruptive students who have already realized that they will move on to the next grade level regardless of whether they complete their schoolwork or not.

    We need to stop moving children through an “assembly line” education system grouped by age, and focus on mastery of concepts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&edufilter=8Fgp0EfoQura8l48YfL_rA

  • Peach

    OUSD has written expectations for reading, writing, and problem-solving beginning in kindergarten. The issue is that only some schools have leaders that expect teachers to help students to learn to read, write, and problem solve independently and on grade level.

    In most, textbooks, literature, science kits, math materials, globes, maps, multimedia learning kits, and computer programs sit on shelves in classrooms and bookrooms. Libraries are closed, understaffed, and/or empty of students. Nowhere is there evidence of student learning or creations.

    The situation does not change for many of our high school students. Unlike students at elite schools, they are not walked through the process of functioning at ever high levels as they progress through the grades. Too often the talents and intellectual capacity of Oakland students are not nurtured or developed.

    The majority of OUSD students enter middle school at the 4th grade level and graduate high school in the same place. Basic skills and passing the high school exit exams are the goals of the institutions.

    Right now, the latest “reform”, fad, flavor of the month, gimmick, special program, etc. are what are recognized and rewarded because these schemes allow the circulation of monies among business interests. And yes, most of the charter schools have the same characteristics and similar results.

    Until the Board, district leadership, executive directors, and principals are held accountable for encouraging and supporting the day-to-day, hour–by-hour teaching and learning that should be happening in classrooms there will be no change.

    Students, families, communities, teachers, support personnel, and experienced education leaders have the knowledge and skills to work together to rectify the current situation. Working together…

  • Catherine

    What if we set up video recorders in classrooms in which EITHER teachers complained of difficult student behavior, teachers complained that previous teachers were not making sure all students were working at grade level or parents complained that their children were being used to teach other children routinely. In doing so, those students who turn upside down in their chairs, hit teachers and curse could have the video proof and parents or guardians would be required to sit in the class and observe. Teachers would be assigned mentors to help them teach better or they would have to find a job outside of the district and no child in school would be expected to be a teacher for more than once per week for one subject.

    After school programs in title 1 schools would have to hire credentialed teachers to work with students after school to help catch up learning or they would not be awarded the lucrative contracts for services. These companies make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from the Federal government programs yet only provide minimal homework assistance for about 30 minutes (after they have their meetings and talk about feelings).

    Finally, students should not be given grades that are inflated. My own sons earned very high grades in all subjects all though elementary school in Oakland and in their middle school in Oakland, when they moved in middle school to another district, one without grade inflation, they were earning a C to a C- in English – a grade that was commensurate with their demonstrated ability at the time. After a great deal of effort on the part of teachers staying after school to help each of my sons and my sons for the great deal of work needed to come up to grade level, they are now able to write research reports in high school for which they EARN top marks and have the right to be proud. Their writing is far better that the writing of their teachers in elementary and middle school.

    We need to have students who want to learn able to do so at the highest level; however that does not diminish the wok that must be accomplished by all Oakland students.

  • Gordon Danning

    Debora (#24):

    I don’t think that really addresses my concern. If 99% of the students in the history of the universe would have scored under 70% on that test, then “proficient” must mean “in the top 1%,” in which case it is silly to complain that too many OUSD students are not “proficient.” On the other hand, if 99% of 2-year-olds would score over 70%, then OUSD is doing an awful job. My point is that we cannot know what the proficiency rates mean until we know what they purport to measure.

    PS: 70-75%% is generally considered a “C”, which is supposed to be average, so if “proficient” means “the level at which the average student is expected to perform,” then there appears to be no problem with the standard.

  • On The Fence

    Steven in #2 asked what evidence we had that graduates are less proficient today than in the past. He noted that this has been a concern for decades. Did we get a conclusive answer?

    Sometime around when I started college, the book entitled Cultural Literacy came out. It was more about the content of what we knew or did not know, (rather than math/English proficiency) but I wonder if we are always horrified by those coming up behind, or if things are truly so much worse now.

    Also, someone mentioned that Berkeley High had many more offerings than Oakland Tech and that the rigor offered at Oakland Tech does not compare. I was rather surprised by that assertion, but do not know enough about Berkeley High to make an informed comparison. My understanding was that the rigor available at OTech was stellar, so I’d be interested in hearing more about this issue.

  • Gordon Danning

    On the Fence:

    My understanding is that Berkeley High, and to some extent Oakland Tech, is in effect two schools: There are very rigorous offerings for those who are motivated to take advantage of them (largely, but not exclusively, the children of Cal profs at Berkeley High and Rockridge families at Tech), and average offerings for others.

    PS: Berkeley High is a very large school — 3400 students — so of course it offers more electives and clubs. It is tough to offer a class unless there are 20 or so kids willing and able to take it; a school that offered too many classes with very few students would run out of money. It is easier to get 20 kids to enroll in, for example, AP Studio Art, when you have 3400 kids, rather than 2000.

    Moreover, as a Berkeley property owner, I know that I pay higher property taxes than most folks in Alameda County, and I believe that much of that extra money goes to Berkeley USD. In fact, the Ed-Data website says that BUSD gets $459 per student from local sources. OUSD gets $193, and the state average is $153.

  • Nextset

    Public School Teacher:

    You don’t have to like it. I don’t have to like it.

    Genetics are overwhelmingly responsible for cognitive skills. That’s the conclusion of nearly 100 years of research.

    There is some room for assisting development with prenatal and postnatal nutrition – but that is a minor adjustment of what the person started out with.

    Further efforts to alter group norms can be tried but at some point you are using force to change people to what they are not. There’s a price to pay for that.

    Freedom excerbates the group differences. I do agree we have gone too far with “freedom”.

  • Nextset

    Public School Teacher:

    I forgot to mention, along with prenatal and postnatal nutrition issues other things can harm cognitive skills. Violence, Trauma, Narcotics & Alcohol can retard – and permanently retard development.

    This ties in to that “freedom” problem. American and especially California practices diseugenics. We encourage large families among the dregs of society. We generally refuse to remove children from unfit mothers and refuse to sterilize unfit mothers. We used to. We don’t anymore.

    These problems occur a different levels with different ethnics/groups/Castes. Native Indians and FAS, for example. Single Black Mothers for example. Some groups form a Caste of their own with nightmare stats.

    No one should have the nerve to argue that teachers should be paid or punished based on the performance of their students when these Castes are involved. In a perfect world the incoming students would be evaluated actuarily, tracked into programs where they have a reasonable expectation of success and groomed for industry, military or higher ed. We don’t even attempt to do so any more. Thanks to liberal control of the courts Blacks are refused IQ testing although everybody else can be tested and counseled accordingly. Not that public schools do much of this anymore for anyone.

    For that, you go to a good school.

    Brave New World!

  • Michael Kinsley

    Oh boy, where to start… I teach high school (United States History, AP US History, and AP Psychology). The vast majority of my students have very low reading comprehension skills, and nearly all of them loudly pronounce their intense dislike of reading. I think that we all have some idea about the way that technology, the easy access to digital forms of entertainment, and peer pressure work against the likelihood that our students will actually embrace reading. At a deeper level, however, I think that there is a relationship between the the testing culture that has taken over public education and a decline in teachers ability to convey the pleasure of reading to students at the elementary level. Pleasure in the act of reading is not, I think, trivial. In order to develop the higher order reasoning skills that colleges are not finding in high school graduates, students need to have learned how to manipulate ideas, and I when I reflect upon my own education much of this ability seems tied to the reading I did for pleasure when I was young. I also believe that the emphasis upon ensuring that the elementary reading standards are met means that upper grade students have no real preparation in the kinds of skills that I need them to be able to demonstrate, which are all about understanding and engaging with the arguments that authors deploy to express a point of view. All of this takes time, and there is less and less of that because of the increasing class sizes, the shortened school years, and the ever expanding list of mandated standards. One last point, and this is something that I wish my profession would do some soul searching over; my students view their assignments as the functional equivalent of “widgets.” If a teacher requires 10 assignments during a marking period, the students believe that means that if they submit 10 appropriate widgets, then they get an A. The students do not view assignments as learning experiences. They do not engage with the work given out in the ways that lead to lasting learning, which I would hope is what teachers really want when they give out their assignments. Something is wrong with this, and I cannot help but think that this, too, is a result of our test dominated approach to education. Its all very frustrating.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BridgetheChasm Charlie at Bridge the Chasm

    For math, Jessica Stewart’s June 7th comment touches on what I believe is a key issue. Standards in math cover too many topics. Third graders are asked to learn statistical measures of central tendency: mean, median and mode as though it were as important for them as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These four fundamentals, if they were the only topics in grades kindergarten through fourth, could be not only learned, but, if explored in depth, could provide the “number sense” needed for all future math. It would also allow more focused training of elementary teachers, who are often teaching elementary school because they relate well to the very young, but are not necessarily good at math. No indictment of the teachers here, but focus in training and topics would increase the result produced from their skills working with young children.

    I spent a year as an intern, teaching middle school in West Oakland and have spent the last three plus years doing Saturday math tutoring in the same neighborhood with my wife who is a credentialed math teacher. We have found an unbelievable lack of fundamentals in too many of the children: middle and high schoolers who haven’t learned to work with fractions, expected to be able to learn algebra — not possible. Worse yet, students of that age who can’t do simple arithmetic, like 8+7.

    So I believe the answer in math is to teach nothing but addition, subtract, multiplication and division through fourth grade with a persistence and a system which does not let students move on to the next level until the one before it is mastered. Then a fifth grade spent solely on fractions. Do this, and test scores in math, which is probably the most objective school subject, will soar.

  • GV Haste

    #41 Charlie At Bridge The Chasm

    You have it exactly correct. Teaching: mean, median, and mode, to 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders who have little understanding or skills with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or fractions, is like building a 3 floor house with a mud foundation.

    I often perform little non-blunt tests when out.
    Asking everyday young people innocent questions about how high is up, or how much is much. Questions that entail the most simple understanding of basic math.
    The are completely lost at sea.
    If you ask the typical Oakland 5th grader how much paint would be needed to paint a room, they’d think you were asking the secrets of nuclear fusion.
    The don’t have enough grasp of the basic concepts or abilities to even formulate how they would go about constructing a answer.

    Simply ask them how many eggs are in 4 dozen.
    Fully half of them would not know the answer.
    Or ask what is 9 x 7…

    If half of sixth graders can’t do that in their heads, then we are simply wasting $10,000 per year in the class room.
    Any sharp adult could teach 4 graders all of that in one summer. 10 weeks with time to spare for playing baseball half the day.
    Even poor children can learn.

    Every 5 years, a new superintendant, a new plan, and look where we are. A poor record over 20 years.
    Meanwhile, knowing that half the flatland kids won’t even graduate, the city encourages a ever greater supply of low-skilled labor to come to Oakland and complete for the declining number of unskilled jobs.
    A toxic mix that ensures a growth in future inmates.

    Half the kids don’t graduate. What will they do?
    Now, we do know the answer to that question, don’t we.

  • Catherine

    Posts 41 and 42 – You are assuming in your statements that all students learn at relatively the same rate. For students, my sons are among this group who were doing multiplication of 2s and 3s in kindergarten and by the end of first grade mastered the multiplication facts to 12 with corresponding division facts, the mean, median and mode are just “fun games” as my sons and their friends called it. They wanted to play with the Pythagorean Theorem by fourth and fifth grades. About a third of the class was ready for this work, yet was held back because, “No fourth grade student could be developmentally ready for such abstract thought.”

    We need to stop the one size fits all language and teaching. It is not helpful for any student.

  • Nextset

    Public School Teacher:

    I don’t believe nurture is significant when dealing with large numbers of people. I believe nature – physical things like prenatal nutrition and genetics – is the dominant thing for cognitive abilities. You cannot “teach” a student to be bright.

    Prenatal drug and alcohol exposure – childhood head injuries and trauma – poisoning and malnutrition, are all issues.

    So when the kiddies get into public schools the die is largely cast. From that point on the public schools contribution to the fate of the student is to teach the kiddies to use what they have. What they have is not always strictly cognitive. Some have better motor skills, some are more theatrical, some have better people skills, some good hand-eye co-ordination. I don’t see evidence of OUSD and such schools like LAUSD making efforts to evaluate and track minority students to guide them into making money and staying out of prison and the morgue. I see the large districts as being hamstrung by PC and in utter contempt of their constituency anyway. They don’t expect anything out of them and only want to pacify them into oblivion.

    Properly coached a dummy can do a Forrest Gump and make it in this Brave New World. Not OUSD’s dummies. They are not only not coached, they are trained by the school in destructive thinking & bad habits.

    I grew up in Oakland in the mid 20th century. I know very well how poor blacks can keep working and end up doing rather well for themselves. I see examples of welfare (childhood) to well off even today and it doesn’t occur from being patted on the head.

  • Nontcair

    The imperative that everyone MUST go to college is a mania which has got to STOP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BridgetheChasm Charlie at Bridge the Chasm

    Catherine – post 43

    Let me clarify. I completely agree wit you that no child should be kept from learning more afer they are at grade level. A fifth grader doing calculus is a wonderful thing, even if it needs to be self-directed independent study. My purpose was to say that non-fundamentals should not be standards required of all students, and that deep exploration of the nature of the fundamentals, would probably move more kids into the category of your sons, and may be of some interest to your sons.


    It is difficult to predict at age 10, what a child will eventually decide to do with their life as they approach adulthood. Therefore, while I agree it should be made clear for students it is their choice to go to college, schools would — in my opinion –be failing if they did not prepare all students for college through sophmore year in high school, so their choice to not attend college, would not driven by their lack of preparation.

  • Nontcair

    Public schools should prepare kids for college. The same old “one size fits all” approach.

    Perhaps you believe that public schools should also prepare kids for non-traditional career paths? Er, which one(s) would that be? What exactly did you mean by it being difficult to predict at age 10?

    Could it be that you just want to impose your values on everyone else’s kids?

  • Catherine

    Nontcair: Suppose you had a one-parent household with a mom who had four kids. She had her first child while in school. She is doing everything she can to pay the bills and has no idea about college and does not have time to pay enough attention to the children she has. The schools sends home a notice that her oldest two children are having trouble in school. The school says that perhaps they are not college bound. The mother agrees because she does not know about college, has never had a family member or friend graduate college and has no idea how she would even pay for college. She says to put the kids on the vocational track while in elementary school.

    There is almost no switching after elementary school because the students who are behind in reading and mathematics after third grade have virtually so little chance of catching up the there are not enough students in Oakland who have done so to even track a pattern that helped them succeed.

    Under your statement in post 47 I would be imposing my values if I were the child’s teacher and said to the mother, no, you children will not be on the vocational track until they are old enough to make the decision for themselves. They will need to stay after school with a tutor to bring their skills to grade level while in elementary school.

    What if the mother had to sign saying that she acknowledges that she has been told that a college graduate will make $1,000,000 more in his or her lifetime than someone who graduates from high school alone. Or suppose the two kids don’t have enough skills to pass the high school exit exam based on the mother’s choice and she has to acknowledge that her choice will cost her children each more than $2,000,000 over their lifetime. Because, those are the statistical facts.

  • Nontcair

    It does not matter that you *believe* you know better. You are still imposing.

    Only a “licensed” offical who is jealous of his powers would presume to make a *parent* sign a disclaimer for asserting a parental prerogative.


  • Nontcair

    I can tell that you’re easily fooled by statistics.