Thursday, June 23, 2011

American schools are passing students while failing to prepare them for today's challenges

By Wellington C. Ramos

Last week I had the opportunity to sit in an audience and watch about two hundred students graduate and receive their Masters, Bachelors and Associate degrees from the college where I have been teaching for years now.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and HistoryWhile I was sitting down, my mind started to reflect on the years I spent with the New York City Department of Education as a paraprofessional, teacher and truancy counselor for about twenty years. Many of our students in the public schools are being promoted to a higher grade without meeting the academic requirements of the grades and are not gaining any meaningful knowledge.

Throughout my years in the public schools, I have worked in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. This has equipped me with the tools to analyze and evaluate the differences in all levels of education throughout the New York City public school system.

My worst experience was working in a middle school. The students I encountered there were undisciplined, disrespectful, unmannerly, cutting classes, leaving the school building, disrupting classes, lacking the motivation to learn, failing most of their subjects, violent and engaged in several other anti-social behaviors. Yet, despite all this, most of them were sent off to high schools with the hope of achieving their high school diplomas.

Today there are about 50,000 students in the New York public school system that are over 17 years of age and have less than ten high school credits and still in the ninth grade. The chances of these students graduating from high school are slim to none. The mayor of the city and his old school chancellor have no program for them so they will all end up as high school dropouts.

Despite this, they decided to increase the standards these students should meet in order to graduate, when they have difficulty meeting the old standards. Common sense should dictate that if they couldn’t meet the old standards they will not be able to meet the new ones.

In addition, they have changed the focus to testing and scores instead of curriculum content and gaining knowledge, which means their reading, writing, math, verbal and analytical skills will be lacking. Studies released recently confirmed that these students are not prepared to do college level work or enter the workforce as productive employees.

Since Mayor Bloomberg took over the New York City schools, he has acted as if he is an educational expert. The parents of the students in the New York City public schools have little say and are not consulted on many things regarding their children’s education. The school district boards have become insignificant and there are a series of re-organizational schemes that have been implemented. There is no proof to date that these changes have led to the students gaining more knowledge and becoming better functioning adults.

Today, when you are on the trains, buses or the streets of New York City and you look at how most of these students dress, speak and behave, you would wish that you could be in another place at that time instead of being in their presence. These students are our future and if we are happy with what we are seeing then we all should applaud our schools for doing a wonderful job. If we are not happy then we should be demanding that something be done about this situation now.

I believe that this is the time for the Governor of New York State to convene a commission to look into the problems of the New York City public schools and other schools that are failing in this state before it is too late. That commission should be given the authority to go to all the schools in the cities to find out why these schools are failing and the children are not graduating with the skills to master reading, writing, computational, analytical and public relations skills.

We cannot continue to blame the children for all the problems we see because their behaviour could be as a result of what is taking place in their homes, neighbourhoods and schools. These children are also experiencing different things from what we experienced when we were growing up. Achieving knowledge and education, is only a part of growing up but, for our children to make it in this world today, they will have to portray a positive attitude at all times when they are in public.

June 23, 2011