This may be an inflammatory post. I’m feeling rather opinionated, and overly reflective tonight as I chomp on crackers and listen to my newly christened teacher friend talk about how her first year on the job has been more disillusioning than ever. As she talked, I jotted down some things she mentioned. Then I backtracked to my own high school experience. I remember graduating in the top two percent of my class. More than anything, emphasis rested on class rank. While the course load was heavier than what I experienced in college, I don’t particularly remember much of the material I studied to graduate in the upper ranks. I took away practical skills, like writing and how to fill out your annual tax forms, but that was about it. I’m sure many of you would call high school a blur. But I’m also sure many of you may have differing opinions on the public school system in general. Here, I list the top ten things I personally believe public schools are doing wrong when it comes to student motivation. These are just my thoughts, with bits from my own experience that obviously deviates from yours. I am no one. Laugh.
1.Class Rank – When schools implement class rank and the awards of valedictorian and salutatorian when students are already very competitive, intrinsic motivation is threatened. Students take AP classes not out of interest, but because bonus points are added to their grade point average. They could be taking elective courses that spark their interest, such as culinary arts or painting, but choose not to because the AP classes boost their likelihood of obtaining a high class rank. Students do not read or do assignments to learn for the sake of it. Rather, they memorize information to perform well on tests, rather than develop a conceptual understanding of the class material. It does not matter that they learn, but rather, if they do “better” than other people. They fail to master the material, and instead put more effort towards racking up points to make it to the top.
2.Low Standards for Passing Grades – Some school districts have set “70” as a passing grade, while others such as ______ Independent School District have relied on the meager “60” as passing. Depending on the class and how it is taught, much may not be required to earn the 60 or 70. This puts failure-avoidant students at a disadvantage. They are motivated by not wanting to fail the class, and often, barely pass. They do not master the material, nor gain an adequate, conceptual understanding of what is taught if a modest amount of effort is required to pass. They are only concerned with obtaining the minimum grade, just as competitive students are mainly concerned with earning a top class rank without actually retaining content.
3.Material Goods Given in Exchange for Good Grades – When a school district gives students money or lavish items such as iPods and iPads in exchange for good grades, intrinsic motivation is also undermined because students no longer wish to learn, but rather, memorize and ace tests to fund trips to the mall or stifle their boredom. For the college-bound, a rude awakening awaits when they find that good grades in college do not entail luxurious rewards. Also, when the reward is given so often, it loses its “wow” factor, and students are not as gratified when receiving them. The reward loses its intended effect, and student performance may stagnate or even flounder.
4.Competition of Class Averages Between Class Periods – It isn’t uncommon for a teacher to promise a pizza party to whichever class earns the highest overall average over the six weeks’ term, semester, or simply a big exam. The students may not internalize the goal of doing well, seeing it as set by the teacher to make himself look good because his students would work harder and earn better grades. Or, like students competing for class rank, the students would do well, but not necessarily retain information. They only care about the pizza, or “beating” the other classes. They would not necessarily master the information taught.
5.“Accelerated Reader” Competitions – Elementary and intermediate schools often hold book-reading competitions in which the student with the most “Accelerated Reader” points receives a monetary reward or a gift card to a popular store or restaurant. The student is shallowly tested on comprehension skills, and points increase based on the number of pages a book contains. It isn’t uncommon to see a student skim or read through a book without absorbing its content. The student is only extrinsically driven by the reward at the end and doing better than others. Reading comprehension doesn’t exactly improve when you passively read to rack up on page numbers and points.
6.Overworked Guidance Counselors – Students with long term goals are at a disadvantage when few guidance counselors work at their high school and are often overwhelmed by a large number of students. The guidance counselors are often unable to help students compartmentalize their long term goals into several short term goals, nor discuss how they are to reach their goals, including admittance to a prestigious college or attending a vocational school after graduation. Students could even lose sight of their goals, abandoning them altogether or attempting to reach them inefficiently, with suboptimal results.
7.Paying for 100% of Students’ AP Exam Fees – It is not uncommon for school districts to pay for the entirety of students’ AP exam fees in economically disadvantaged schools. As the students’ family is not paying for the exam, its importance may be minimized in the students’ eyes and performance may be subpar. Tests may be blown off as efforts to prepare for them become insubstantial. Passing the AP exam no longer remains a priority especially if a student receives bonus points on transcripts regardless of whether he or she makes the marks needed for college credit.
8.Teachers Required to Comply with a Failure Rate – Public school teachers are often required to have a set failure rate that they cannot surpass. This mandate often results in passing off students who may not have performed at the standard needed to advance a grade level or graduate. Older students may be aware of this, feel that they will be passed anyway because a teacher is legally required to, and not put forth an honest effort in class. The students do not even internalize the goal of passing because it is already achieved for them through the teacher’s being required by the state, school district, or school administration to pass the majority of his or her students. Yes, as a high school student, this information was relayed to me. By my own teachers.
9.Lack of Vocational Programs – Lack of vocational programs limits the variety of opportunities open to a student for goal-setting and personal success. The student may not identify with programs already existing for college-bound students and as a result, does not set goals he or she can honestly internalize and enjoy working towards. Consequently, unmotivated and uninterested students often drop out or perform poorly in school.
10.The Idea that Every Child Must Go to College – The idea that every child must go to college definitely coalesces with Problem 9 as options are limited for students who do not fit the “college-bound” mold. It is this idea that ______’s “4 by 4” plan is based on. A student with no interest in going to college should not be mandated to take advanced math classes if the desired career pathway does not require these skills. The goal of going to college is set not by the students themselves, but instead by the state of ______, and a handful of teachers. The students may resent teachers and other authority figures for hailing the importance of college, as they may not understand that some students do not have the financial backing or family support to attend, or have other obligations after high school. The students will reject this goal of going to college, and having little options and support for different types of goal-setting, they remain disadvantaged and lack perspective as to what they wish to do in the future to gain financial independence.
Again, personal observations and opinions from no one. Just a young blogger who got a high school diploma through the Texas public school system, and got triggered listening to a venting friend.
Feel free to divulge your thoughts and share your experiences.