kitchen table math, the sequel: Anonymous on Race to Nowhere and over-work

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anonymous on Race to Nowhere and over-work

Anonymous writes:
This movie was shown in our district courtesy of our PTO. The re-cap in the local paper confirmed what a friend told me about the event: the discussion hosted afterward quickly ended up in favor of less AP classes. Parents wanted to ditch AP and Honors class in favor of more vocational and elective type classes. This would be more an annoyance than a serious concern if I didn't live in a district that has already eliminated gifted ed and doesn't support ability grouping until middle school. Eliminating AP classes is just one more way to take away opportunities for the motivated, the gifted, and/or the plain 'ole hard-working kid.

However, I do think the message may be partially right. Our kids are working too hard-- they're spinning their wheels for all the wrong reasons: poor curricula, lack of ability grouping, constructivist classrooms, lack of pedagogical content, and other issues often discussed on this website. It's really hard to waste time of a group project or power point presentation and then wonder why the SAT and ACT questions are so challenging, why you now need to hire a tutor, or why you're going to have to give up that dream of becoming an engineer because you never developed the requisite skills. Not having the proper foundation means you're going to have to work really, really hard to make things happen... and sometimes, it's just so difficult you just give up.
The peril to AP classes is a real worry to me. My district would clearly like to eliminate them (although I'm guessing they'd be interested in replacing AP with IB).

I wish I'd filmed the three college presentations we've attended. It's all AP all the time; colleges want to see AP courses on transcripts.

They make no bones about it.

6 comments:

Jo in OKC said...

I think that part of the problem is that there's a group of students at the very top who can sail through a schedule of nothing but AP/IB classes, plus research, plus volunteer work, plus more and do everything well.

There's a group of students right under that CAN pull off the same schedule, but they have to work MUCH, MUCH harder to do so.

I think it's this second group that Race to Nowhere is really about. They're the ones who spend all their time trying to compete with the top group and basically lose any type of life during high school.

Below those two groups are multiple groups of kids who don't even try to compete at that level. I would say that most of them also aren't affected by the Race to Nowhere.

Anonymous said...

"There's a group of students right under that CAN pull off the same schedule, but they have to work MUCH, MUCH harder to do so.

I think it's this second group that Race to Nowhere is really about. They're the ones who spend all their time trying to compete with the top group and basically lose any type of life during high school."


And the reward for keeping up with the first group in high school, is you get to go off to an Ivy League school (or MIT or Stanford or ...) and compete with them *again* for four more years.

If all goes well, you then go off to one of the better graduate schools (or one of the top 'N' law schools) for 3-5 more years!

Then you can start living your life. Assuming that you have any idea how to do this.

Did I miss any steps?

I understand the ideas of working hard and overachieving, but I don't understand the people who write off their HS years (which I did ... I think it was a mistake) and college years (which I explicitly did not do) doing so.

Anyone? Buehler?

-Mark Roulo

Lisa said...

I haven't seen the movie but I'm siding with Anon. The kids are not given (in many but not all districts) the skills not to work hard. When AP is open to anyone someone is bound to struggle.

Allison said...

But they ARE affected by the Race to Nowhere, because we're going to make national education policy based on a tiny tiny sliver of parents who are upset that TigerMom's daughters got into Yale and theirs didn't--and want a better way to rationalize it.

The more we talk about "the solution to the problems in education is..." as if there's one solution that will work for our widely varied set of schools, the more we'll keep creating failure.

The Road to Nowhere encourages schools of education and teachers coming out of them to believe that all of the ingredients necessary for mastery are bad. Most teachers coming out of that environment will believe that and will have no evidence to the contrary. Then most of them will go to schools where students aren't going to have savvy enough parents to know how to get them that mastery anyway.

SteveH said...

"... as if there's one solution that will work for our widely varied set of schools, the more we'll keep creating failure."

I agree.

At any level, there will likely be students who work harder than you do. This only matters because the top colleges pick those kids. A parent I know has most of her kids at Phillips Andover, with the goal being an Ivy League school. Does a high school think that competition will go away if they eliminate AP classes?

I like AP classes because it forces some sort of rigor on high schools, but I don't like the AP arms race. These are two separate issues. The arms race has to do with supply and demand at colleges. A senior I know is taking 5 AP classes even though she will be going to a college that is ranked only about 90th for liberal arts colleges. IB doesn't help. It's actually worse in terms of commitment. With AP, you can choose what you want to do.

Even if the demand goes down and the college SAT cutoffs are reduced, there will still be the same percent of students stressed out about getting into their first choice colleges. Is supply and demand the problem of K-12 education?

There are also the problems of curriculum and how well classes are taught. Students can be stressed by working very hard, but be quite happy when they get into the college they want. Students can also be stressed when they find out that all of their hard work didn't prepare them properly.

Of course, this doesn't say anything about the kids at the middle and lower end. I find it odd that when many see problems in high school, they think that the problem to fix is in high school. They translate everything into one problem to solve. Even in K-6, I see solutions based on remediation and not finding the source of the problem.

If the problem is overstressed students (not bad classes or curricula), then don't push them. Tell them not to take so many AP classes and do so many activities. Our son is not at Phillips Academy, but we don't ignore the game. It's my job to help him find the right balance. It's the school's job not to waste his time.

Katharine Beals said...

I blogged about this earlier, here:
http://oilf.blogspot.com/2011/04/race-to-remediation-ii.html

My sense, from what I've read, is that Race to Nowhere is overly focused on the college admissions process, when they should also be looking backwards towards K8 education, where all those watered-down math and science classes and content-impoverished social studies classes disadvantage everyone, even our top students. By the time they reach high school it's hard--and extremely stressful--for students to make up for lost time, whether in math, biology, chemistry, or history.