Tuesday, April 21, 2015

They left out the "mediate" in "remediation"

We have a depressing topic today – remediation.

Remediation should be positive – finding a remedy, or as the dictionary says, reversing the damage.  In education, remediation should be the act of fixing the problems that keep students from achieving more and learning more.  But as you’ll see in today’s continuation of the A-Z blog challenge, what it should be is what it ain’t. 

I’ve only worked at one school that does remediation well, a charter chain that we’ll call KIPP, which is its actual name.  The entire school model revolves around remediation because the students needing it are the ones that are coming to KIPP schools.  A gifted child doesn’t need a KIPP school, but a kid who is struggling with the basics will improve.  KIPP spends the bulk of its time on remediation strategies; it also instills good study habits, a work ethic and accountability into its curriculum. 

“Why aren’t you still there?” you may ask.  “Poor life decisions,” I would answer.

I realize there are probably exceptions everywhere, as I’ve heard about floundering KIPP schools and lousy KIPP teachers.  But overall, this charter chain does it right.  I can’t say the same for TCS or CISD.  Remediation there is similar to waterboarding. 

The saying is “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” So what if you refuse to let the horse leave the water?  Will he drink then?  Or what if you keep shoving his nose into the trough, over and over?  Will that make him drink it?  Having taught remediation classes now for the past two years, I think schools are trying to force the students to drink but aren’t looking beyond that.

My school has an interesting way of dealing with students who struggle in certain subjects.  Right now, I have a senior in one of my writing classes who has always done poorly in English classes.  He’s a thoughtful, well-spoken kid, but for some reason he just won’t complete or turn in writing work.  Each year he’s failed his English classes, but passed other courses.  So now, as a senior, his schedule is packed with ALL language arts classes.  He has my class, English IV, a college prep writing class, and two other remediation ELA classes.

I’m not sure what the prevailing wisdom is here – he can’t be successful in these classes, so we take away any other course options and then he’ll be successful?  Maybe they hope that getting slammed over the head with the same information repeatedly will cause it to sink in suddenly.  But the reality is that he’s still failing, and he hates school now.  This senior does need to pass these classes to graduate, and he still shows up to do it.  However, he’s never met with a diagnostician or specialist who could help him understand why he’s struggling or to develop strategies to help him pass.  The school dumped him into the ELA pool and told him to swim when he typically sinks.

Karen is a lovely girl in one of my remediation classes.  She consistently does all her work, follows through and knows the material in and out.  Her grade is always an A.  So why is she in remediation?  Karen can’t pass a standardized test.  She tells me, “I look at the test, Ms. Marlowe, and there’s just so much.”  She has test anxiety.  But rather than have her meet with a school psychologist or counselor to have her develop coping strategies, she’s dropped into remediation.  Her mother is frustrated and can’t figure out how to help her daughter.  She does know that the constant remediation isn’t doing it.

Let me add another horror story to this lineup.  I taught journalism classes at TCS, where I had the same problems with underachieving students being moved to my class, despite the fact that they had no interest in journalism.  In addition, the school would put brand –new-to-the-country students into my class.  These students struggled to speak English, and they were dropped into writing elective classes that require someone to have a good command of the language already.  The school’s philosophy was that it was still an ELA class, so they’d learn more English just by being in there.  These non-English speakers were terrified.  Female students would often break down crying to me over their inability to understand the work.    Both my complaints and the ELA coordinator’s complaints were ignored.  We worked together to try and come up with activities for the students just to improve their speaking abilities, but it was rough. 

I may not have the answers, but I know this isn’t it.  It seems like a CYA move so that the school can show it tried to help when in reality, it didn’t.  The horse isn’t drinking, so let’s pen him in around a lake until he drinks or keep pushing his nose into the water.  He just needs a drink, and that’s all there is to it. Since he's still not drinking, let's hold his head under the water until he drowns.