I am surely not the only one concerned about the front page story in Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal.
This past week, as has been the case in previous years, a group of incoming Madison Area Technical College students spent time learning basic study skills such as note-taking and time management, as well as information on decidedly squishier topics, such as how to stay motivated or take personal responsibility.
While I strongly applaud those who are seeking more studies, and coming to grips with the avenues required to be successful in the classroom, there is an 800-pound question that demands an answer.
How is it possible that after 12 years in the public school system, and after having graduated from high school, that any incoming student is not already well prepared for at least technical school classes?
We all are aware that students learn at different paces, there are many societal issues that impact learning, and the constant political drumbeat against education does not improve anything. But having said all that how can the statistics be so lopsided in the wrong direction, given what we do pay for our education system in this state?
(For the record I have no problem paying property taxes, and all other taxes. I have no problem funding education. That is my responsibility as a citizen. But like my other investments I want a proper return for the dollars I provide.)
Increasingly, students are not ready to do college-level coursework. At MATC, about 48 percent of new students aren’t prepared for college English and 72 percent aren’t prepared for college math, according to school data.
Those statistics not only alarm me, but they also frustrate me.
I grew up in a rural area of Wisconsin, and was provided an average sort of public education. For the record, I graduated from high school in 1980. In other words I understand that this is a different time. Yet everything can not have landed up-side down in 30 years.
I can assure my readers that I never would have made it to high school if I had not already had a proficiency with note taking, good study habits, and an ability to write. My fellow classmates were not just slid along to another level, some were held back and made to take a grade over.
By the 7th grade my history teacher, Mr. Appleyard, was already demanding that we take copious notes. His exams were always essay questions that kept students writing for the full 45 minutes. He not only wanted the correct answers and points of view, but also full paragraphs and proper grammar. His class was rigorous at the time, and the beginning of what one should expect when taking part in lectures and a more advanced style of learning.
When I think back to his classroom in light of the news article about learning to take notes before starting MATC, I can only ask why there are so many unprepared for college studies when leaving high schools?
Something is not being done correctly, somewhere.
While discussing this topic with friends this weekend one person summed it up with three words. Parenting, parenting, parenting. I happen to agree with this assessment. While teachers far too often get the brunt of the blame for what goes wrong in the classroom it needs to be remembered that back in the home, where the kids are to be raised properly, is the place where education first starts and needs to be nourished. Far too often it does not.
What troubles me with the story of the pre-college camps is that the money taxpayers provided for public schools to deliver a final product that could read, write, reason, and function often does not happen. That means more tax money needs to be used by another system to try again, as is the case with MATC and the pre-college camps.
Even a liberal has to blink twice, and swallow hard as we too want and expect money that is paid for a program to be used in a most effective manner. Public schools are not cheap, and while they have their share of difficulties, it is not too much to ask for readers, writers, and note-takers to graduate after 12 years.
I understand that pre-college camps are still cheaper than to have people fall through the cracks for the rest of their lives, and I applaud those who wish to learn more and strive for a better life. Yet that thinking does not satisfy my initial question.
What is happening in our schools, within our families, in our communities that allows for a segment of the student population to graduate without the basics? Lets be honest about this whole matter. The problem does not start in the senior year of high school, but starts festering in the elementary years and somehow never gets corrected.
As such the public has a right to be frustrated.
Mind you, I am only talking in this post about the basics of how to study and perform at a level that keeps one on par for future educational goals. I could write another post regarding the inability of high school graduates to locate Germany on a map, or place the Civil War within a 40-year-range on a time map. That type of topic drives me to drink….strong coffee!
The larger reason this topic should concern all of us is the race to the top by other nations around the world who seem to be working harder and out-performing us in the classroom. There is not the time or the resources in this country to duplicate the foundation of learning in the way the pre-college camps are trying to do.
Wisconsin needs to buckle down and seriously address the education problems in a way that will not lead to more front page stories about teaching incoming college students about note taking!