Friday, September 30, 2011

What is School Coming to These Days?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. S, Danielle's elective class teacher.  It seems there is a large disconnect between what her homeroom teacher is saying, what Danielle is saying, and the actual facts.

On Tuesday, we got a frantic e-mail from Danielle's homeroom teacher.  She reported that Danielle was failing Mr. S's class. She had been instructed to bring her book home that night (which she didn't do) and that there was no possible way that she could get caught up at school.  We told Danielle that she needed to bring her book home the following night, and she needed to get caught up, or there would be dire consequences.

Wednesday afternoon, she brought her book home and claimed that all her assignments were done.  FosterEema wrote a note to Mr. S, asking him to call and verify that all the missing work had been turned in.

Mr. S. called this morning and reported that Danielle was still missing three assignments, but that her grade had been brought up to a passing mark.  FosterEema called the homeroom class and spoke to an aide who reported that one of the three missing assignments had been turned in and they were working on the remaining two, which should be finished today.

So it seems there's a pretty big communication problem here, and there are several things that I don't understand:
  1. Why, given that Danielle is in a special program for mentally and behaviorally challenged kids, did the school wait until she was eight assignments behind before notifying us?
  2. Why did the homeroom teacher represent the situation as being impossible to rectify at school, when clearly it is being taken care of at school? 
  3. Why are we getting different stories from everybody?  I can understand why Danielle might lie, but why is it that we are hearing different information from the various teachers?
Although I found Mr. S. to be helpful, he did tell me something rather disturbing.   He told me that the school was soliciting voluntary cash donations to support his elective program, and that he had offered students in his class extra credit points for bringing in those donations.

So basically, if parents make a donation of a certain dollar amount, kids get enough extra credit points to bring them up a full grade letter.

I was shocked.  Money for grades?

"I'll take it under advisement, as to whether or not we can afford to make a donation," I told Mr. S., "but if we do make a donation, Danielle should not be given extra credit for it.  I believe that grades should be earned, not bought."

Mr. S. seemed surprised at my reaction.  He tried to explain that he offered students a variety of ways to earn extra credit in his class.

"Extra credit I have no problem with," I replied, "if that extra credit is based on work."

I was shocked.  I am still shocked.

Frankly, I'm surprised that students are allowed to turn work in so late and still get credit for it.  Back in my day, teachers would take a full letter grade off of your assignments for each day something was late, unless you had made prior arrangements, or had a valid medical excuse.  Now, it seems kids can turn things in late, right up to the end of the grading period, and it doesn't matter.

Now kids can buy their grades, if Mommy and Daddy will just write a check.

What is school coming to these days?

Administrative Note: This post was edited after its original posting to clarify that Danielle's teacher was soliciting cash donations in exchange for extra credit points.


  1. A couple of my kids teachers have offered extra credit for bringing in supplies. What's sad is, that seems to be the only way they think they can get supplies. I might actually send in more supplies if it weren't for extra credit. It also so far has only been classes my son doesn't need help in - like art.

  2. This wasn't really clear - was it donations of supplies for extra credit, or cash?

    I spend between $500 - $1000 out of my own pocket each year for materials for my classroom. The federal government is kind enough to let teachers write off $250 of it. My classes go through a lot of tissues and wipes, mostly because they just spread their germs around from October - April. I do offer a few points here and there for students to bring in tissues, paper towels, and sanitizing wipes. It's recognition for their contributions and participation. It isn't worth a whole lot. But it's something. Sort of like when you receive a packet of return address stickers when you contribute to your favorite charity. The funding for public schools is broken. It's as broken as the broken foster system. Like you, teachers are doing the best they can, with the tools they've been given.

    Possible answers to your questions:

    1) Is it possible she became 8 assignments behind (or close to that) the day you returned from vacation? How many assignments were given while she was gone? Is it possible that she missed five during vacation, and then upon her return, it quickly ballooned?

    2) It sounds like HR teacher is trying to get you involved at home in all this. In her opinion, it isn't enough to take care of 2 weeks of missed school purely at school.

    3) It sounds like the teachers have differing opinions on how Danielle can get caught up -- either at school, at home, or both. The HR teacher might be looking at the raw numbers ("OMG! 8!") and the elective teacher might be looking at the type of assignment ("It's eight short activities"). I've taught both core and elective classes. In my experience, elective teachers are able to be a little more flexible with their requirements, mostly because they can be. It's not a core class, and there isn't a state mandated curriculum or even identical classes in the building setting the tempo. You don't mention what sort of elective it is, but a lot of electives have creative components, which afford even more flexibility. Some electives are less daily building blocks of discrete skills, and more growth of long-term, large concepts.

    I feel a little sorry for these teachers in all this, too. They are trying to help your daughter and have worked extra to put together her special vacation packet, and are now scrambling with multiple phone calls and creative ideas to help her get caught up. Maybe you should just tell them to stop, if you're not interested.

    Look -- there is a long school year ahead for all of you. It would be a shame for it to be thrown in the trash over this vacation. It would probably be good for you to find out what was missed during that time, and come up with a calendar for her (perhaps with her teachers), with the assignments broken into digestible chunks. Then it can be turned back over to your daughter. If things are so tenuous at home, maybe she needs to stay at school (supervised) to get it done. I would talk with her teachers to make a plan for that. Again, more extra work on their part, but it sounds like they are truly interested in her success.

  3. Thanks for clarifying. Money for extra credit?!? I'd call the principal on this one...

  4. When I was in high school, one of our teachers offered extra credit points in exchange for donations to a charity that was raising money (I forget what the charity was). One of the parents called the principal and complained, and it ended pretty quickly. This was more years ago than I care to admit, so it's not anything new.

    I know the teachers at the school I currently work at have struggled with the question of whether the late work/corrections policy is right or not. The bottom line is the parents want their kids to be able to catch up when they've dug themselves into a hole, so it's difficult for the school to change the policy to be more strict, even if we don't agree with it.

  5. Hmmm...extra credit for monetary donations??!!?? YKES!


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