March 09, 2006

I've been sitting on this...

But somehow this post from Christina reminded me of it.

This may possibly be the truest thing published in USA Today in YEARS.  I couldn't pick and choose, so here is the majority of the article:

Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries — such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana — often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

Politicians and education bureaucrats can talk all they want about reform, but until the work ethic of U.S. students changes, until they are willing to put in the time and effort to master their subjects, little will change.

A study released in December by University of Pennsylvania researchers Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman suggests that the reason so many U.S. students are "falling short of their intellectual potential" is not "inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large class sizes" and the rest of the usual litany cited by the so-called reformers — but "their failure to exercise self-discipline."

The sad fact is that in the USA, hard work on the part of students is no longer seen as a key factor in academic success.

When asked to identify the most important factors in their performance in math, the percentage of Japanese and Taiwanese students who answered "studying hard" was twice that of American students.

American students named native intelligence, and some said the home environment. But a clear majority of U.S. students put the responsibility on their teachers. A good teacher, they said, was the determining factor in how well they did in math.

"Kids have convinced parents that it is the teacher or the system that is the problem, not their own lack of effort," says Dave Roscher, a chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams in this Washington suburb. "In my day, parents didn't listen when kids complained about teachers. We are supposed to miraculously make kids learn even though they are not working."

As my colleague Ed Cannon puts it: "Today, the teacher is supposed to be responsible for motivating the kid. If they don't learn it is supposed to be our problem, not theirs."

And, of course, busy parents guilt-ridden over the little time they spend with their kids are big subscribers to this theory.


"Nowadays, it's the kids who have the power. When they don't do the work and get lower grades, they scream and yell. Parents side with the kids who pressure teachers to lower standards," says Joel Kaplan, another chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams.

Every year, I have had parents come in to argue about the grades I have given in my AP English classes. To me, my grades are far too generous; to middle-class parents, they are often an affront to their sense of entitlement. If their kids do a modicum of work, many parents expect them to get at least a B. When I have given C's or D's to bright middle-class kids who have done poor or mediocre work, some parents have accused me of destroying their children's futures.


Colleges keep complaining that students are coming to them unprepared. Instead of raising admissions standards, however, they keep accepting mediocre students, lest cuts have to be made in faculty and administration.

Author Patrick Welsh is an English teacher in suburban Alexandria, VA.

As the wife of a teacher and a professor to recent High School grads I can attest to every word being said here.  What do you think?
h/t Weekend Pundit

Posted by caltechgirl at March 9, 2006 01:03 PM | TrackBack

I think the success of a student is THE responsibility of the student. If they have a poor teacher, tutoring, internet support classes, etc are available. There is no reason NOT to succeed, unless by choice.

Enough said.

Posted by: Dana at March 9, 2006 02:04 PM

The article correctly divides the responsibility between the parent and child. However we expect children to make poor judgements and bad choices. It is the job of the parents to guide them through these years and set an example of proper behavior. Thus I place most of the rsponsibilty on the parents.

At some point in time, our nation's parents began to endulge their children, and shifted their loyalties from the school and teacher to the child. In my generation (I'm 40) the parent almost always sided with the school, and reinforced the school's message. The parents of my students (I teach seventh grade) side with the students and undermine my authority.

I just held student led conferences, and had half a dozen or parents approach me and try to blame me for the fact that their child did no homework and so received an "F'. ( Even after I sent home two failing progress reports informing them of this)

Posted by: gahrie at March 9, 2006 03:46 PM

That happened here too! Spectacularly

Posted by: caltechgirl at March 9, 2006 03:51 PM

Good article.. I'll try and link to you later and comment about it.

Posted by: vw bug at March 9, 2006 04:15 PM

I agree, by and large, but I also don't think TC Williams is a particularly great example to use. At least when I was in highschool around here, TC was the school that parents from other schools didn't let their kids go to for football games (which are heavily attended by police) etc. etc. It was heavily gang ridden etc. I'm surprised the author feels there are any students there from "affluent households" - unless something major has changed about that area of Alexandria, which last time I drove through, it hadn't.

That said, the motivation of students is something that I noticed as lacking incredibly when I was teaching (in various other locales) and I have to wonder what the root cause is. Is motivation something parents teach? I can't recall ever not being motivated - but is that because my parents taught it at a young age? They're both certainly big believers in personal motivation/work ethic etc, so that's very possible. Whatever it is, we need to recapture it. That's for certain.

Posted by: beth at March 9, 2006 05:56 PM

There's a lot here, lady.

Complacency, laziness, lack of supervision and interest from parents, just to name a few, are all factors here.

The Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, and more all place much higher value and expectation on school, studying, and academic performance.

As a whole, despite being one of the countries with the fewest number of vacation days taken per worker, the American work-ethic sucks.

It is all well on its way to biting us on the a$$.

I would like to say the answer begins at home; however, I see it in the classroom, too, where high achievement is often scorned (because it causes too much work the teacher) and standardized tests "dummed" down to avoid discrimination of any kind.

Oh, geez. If I think too long on it, I make myself ill.

Notwithstanding, I'm pleased to see you draw attention to it.

Posted by: Christina at March 9, 2006 07:53 PM

My daughter was a teacher for twelve years even having been a teacher of the year in two states Florida and South Carolina. She quit teaching last year out of frustration not necessarily with the students although there were problems but mainly with parents. Parents are no longer the motivating force behind a student. A teacher simply cannot do it all. We are dumbly downing the system to meet these lower expectations at the expense of true education.

I am sixty years old and can still remember my school years – never once did my parents come down on a teacher. If they came down on anyone, it was most likely my backside. In the “Political Correct” world we now live in it is America’s backsliding in education that is now showing.

Posted by: Edd at March 9, 2006 09:26 PM

I have to agree with the article. I will concede that a teacher who can make a subject matter interesting and 'fun' to learn may ( but not always ) get better results than the teacher who presents the subject matter in a take it or leave it manner. But no matter, learning is the responsibility of the student. Sometimes it involves that little four letter word that too many students avoid-WORK

Posted by: GUYK at March 10, 2006 01:37 PM