Back to school, back to basics
Read it and weep:
One out of eight students entering the ninth grade in the Charleston County School District on Wednesday reads at a fourth-grade — or lower — level.
And that was the good news on our front page Sunday.
That’s because in 2009, nearly one out of five district students entered the ninth grade reading at no better than the fourth-grade level.
So in this case, one out of eight beats the heck out of almost one out of five.
But shouldn’t that be zero out of five — or out of eight?
Who benefits from having fourth-grade readers in the ninth grade?
Not the students who are stuck in classes so far beyond their reading reach. Not the students who are up to high school speed, but stuck in classes with those who aren’t. Not the teachers stuck with the mission impossible of overcoming that massive gap.
Thus, this common-sense — or is it knee-jerk? — solution packs a powerful appeal for us cranky old-timers:
Just flunk students who don’t meet the scholastic standards of their grade.
Way back when, that worked on some buddies of mine.
Repeating a grade was a wake-up call that inspired them — and their parents — to take school more seriously.
OK, so at times it took a second flunked year for the sink-or-swim message to get through. However, only a few of those guys were stupid. Most of them were just lazy.
And some of them ended up doing quite well — in and out of the educational system.
That was then.
This is now. And while the concept of simply failing slow learners has a certain nostalgic charm, it can create math problems when too many kids show no interest in learning.
How many kids can you flunk? How many years can you flunk them? How many 15-year-olds can a fourth-grade class handle?
At least the district has made a strong, ongoing and apparently productive push on the literacy front over the past few years. At least it is emphasizing the crucial mission of effective reading and writing instruction at an early age.
Meanwhile, lest you too hastily downgrade 2013-14 public education around here, keep in mind that plenty of 2012-13 high school seniors in these parts earned lots of college scholarship money. That includes not just Charleston but Berkeley and Dorchester counties, which started school Monday.
And that hard-working, high-achieving bunch includes winning students from “failing” schools.
Keep in mind, too, that while Charleston County Superintendent Nancy McGinley again stressed the importance of reading in Sunday’s story, she added that it’s not the only core skill requiring ample classroom attention.
As she put it: “We can’t just ride the literacy horse and ignore math.”
McGinley’s logic adds up.
After all, getting back to educational basics must encompass readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic.
So do the math and test your own possibly overrated grade-level assumptions with this SAT sample question:
“Emily’s school offers 3 English classes and 4 History classes for her to choose from. She must choose 3 of these classes to complete her schedule. If exactly one of these must be an English class, how many different combinations of classes are possible for Emily? a) 7; b) 12; c) 18; d) 21; e) 35.” (correct answer at column’s end).
Hey, keep your eyes on your own papers.
And no, there will be no “re-test.”
The sounds of silence
See, maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are.
And maybe many public school students in our community aren’t as poorly educated as you thought.
Still, nobody should start high school while reading at a fourth-grade level.
An all-too-familiar scene lingers as an especially depressing learning experience for this long-ago student:
A teacher orders us to take turns reading aloud in class. The first several children get through it without much problem. Then we get to a kid who can’t read a lick.
Wrenching humiliation ensues. So do classmates’ gasps of sympathy — and snickers of ridicule.
Yet this is no joke:
When kids can’t read, they can’t learn.
And when they enter the ninth grade reading like 9-year-olds, their chances of academic — and economic — success are much less than one out of eight.
Answer: c) 18.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.