Saturday, November 18, 2006

National Education Week

National Education Week

Long after her American classmates left for lunch, Kim-Mei stayed behind to work on her economics. Later that night, she would attend classes at MCC to take a banking class. After her college class, she would go home to study her English on compact disks. For Kim-Mei, American schools offered her the opportunity to make a better life for her and her family.

With five minute left in the class, many of my students started to pack up their books to get ready to leave. Some check their cell phones for text messages. I saw some fiddle with their ipods. Some of the older students started talking about what they were going to do later that night. Many of my native born students didn’t mind wasting five minutes in class to wait for the bell. I noted that my student from Africa kept working, using every moment.

It’s been my experience that foreign-born students from Russia, Romania, Bosnia, China, and Africa all work until the period bell rings while their American counterparts pack up their books five minutes early and seldom complete their homework with the same rigor.

Why do many American students take for granted opportunities to achieve while foreign born students exploit all learning opportunities?

In my advanced placement class last spring the counselor distributed a copy of Education Times that compared the median incomes for different levels of education attainment. According to the publication, the median annual income for a wage earner without a high school diploma was $21, 659. A high school diploma wage was $35,725. A two year college degree tallied $44,404 and a four year college degree earned a median income of $57,220. The point the counselor was making was that there is a clear link between education and income. So why don’t all American students study hard in school?

Last week was National Education Week. I’m proud to be a teacher in Muscatine, I want to take the time to reflect of my teaching and students during the week and last few years.

Many of my students choose not to study hard because the benefits of studying hard in high school are not worth the costs. Last year, I watched 14 students receive Olympic sized medals at graduation who received a perfect grade point average. The award ceremony lasted less than ten minutes. These students took the most challenging classes and many spent six to eight hours a night studying to keep their straight A’s. Yet the recognition awards lasted 10 minutes.

Several of the valedictorians received scholarships to major universities and reap intrinsic rewards from their efforts. Approximately 50 more students graduated with envious grade points. I would offer that 60% of our students see the benefit of school and work hard to reap educational gains from school. They just don’t want to study hard to obtain the maximum benefit from high school.

Most students know that marginal grades will earn them a place in college. For example, all a student has to do to be accepted into the University Iowa, Iowa State University, or to the University of Northern Iowa is to take the ACT and be in the top half of their class. These students know that even mediocre grades in high school will not bar entrance to college.

Many of my students know that employers seldom ask for high school transcripts or attendance records when they apply for jobs. So why work hard studying, attending classes regularly, and doing time-consuming homework when no one cares? When I ask students what they plan do when they go to college they have lofty career plans. They tell me that’s when they plan to study—when they go to college. For these students, high school is like a prep school much like elementary school prepares students for middle school.

I remember the day, Jessica sat in the back of the room wearing the clothes she wore every day. When she asked for her makeup work, I gave her a week’s worth. They young man sitting next to her said in a low voice, “Here’s my homework. You can copy it.”
Jessica turned to him and said, “I don’t want to copy. I want to have a good life someday.”

We need to find a way to make high school meaningful for all students.