07 March 2006

No Goat Left Behind

The school where I teach is in a pretty rural area of New Mexico, home to children of ranchers, farmers, and migrant workers. More than two-thirds of the students come into middle school unable to read at grade level, and (as I discuss below) at the high school level, 27% of the student body can't pass Algebra I. For two and a half years, I've told myself that it's because they're farm kids. They're ranch kids. This book larnin' doesn't much apply to their lives. And that's fine.

Because it's a rural school, many of the teachers also come from farms and ranches, and this time of year the school counselor often brings in baby goats that were born that morning and need special attention to live through the day. I love this about Moriarty. It reminds me of my own childhood, where my classmates would often bring in baby farm animals for show and tell. My elementary school saw everything from baby geese to baby horses -- kitties, pigs, goats, sheep, calves, puppies, etc. I feel very comfortable and happy in a school full of farm animals. (Insert joke about middle school being the perfect place for me, ha ha.) In my ideal world, there would be animals in every school. I think it's healthy, and of course Dewey et al advocate for making connections between school and "real" life.


Last Friday, one of my students informed me that the counselor had brought her "puppy" [GOAT!] to school. Which reminded me of last spring, when another of my students saw the Registrar's calico-colored goat tripping around the schoolyard and asked me, "Whose kitty is that?" I said, "Sweetie, cats don't have HOOVES."

Seriously? I'm supposed to make more than two years of growth in reading levels with farm kids who can't even tell the difference between a CAT and a GOAT??


-- Ms. Backes, this class is pretty bad, huh?
-- Mmmm.
-- Are you going to put us all in ISS?
-- No, but I might just quit my job and run away to Mexico. And then you'll be stuck with a mean teacher who will yell at you.
-- What?? NOOOOOOO!! You guys, get to work or Ms. Backes will run away!
-- You can't run away, Ms. Backes! You're my favorite teacher!
-- Yeah Ms. Backes, you have to be here so I can have you next year after I flunk 8th grade!
-- How flattering.


The New Mexico PED (public education department) just handed down requirements that students be able to pass Algebra, Algebra II, and Geometry in order to graduate. But. 27% of the students at MHS can't even pass Algebra, much less Geometry and Algebra II. So increasing numbers of students are opting to drop out and just get their GEDs. Which would be fine, except for the fact that drop-out rates and graduation rates affect adequate yearly progress (AYP) under NCLB, so as long as we have such a high drop-out rate, there's literally no way we can make AYP, but as long as we require that the student body make it all the way through Algebra II in order to graduate -- when on the GED all they have to do is basic skills -- our drop out rates will remain high. And the thing is, [ Nathand], a great number of our kids *will* grow up to be mechanics and waitresses and small business owners and ranchers and moms. Is it right to force these kids to take Algebra II when they honest-to-god will never use it? Why can't they take an alternate math -- we used to offer "Business Math I" and "Business Math II." Moreover, is it right to punish the 73% of the school who can pass Algebra because the 27% chooses not to put up with the hoop-jumping bullshit and takes their future into their own hands? As long as the GED kids are dropping out, our school will never make AYP, and within a number of years -- two, three -- our high school will be at the highest level of "school improvement," meaning that the government can come in and replace the entire staff of Moriarty High School. At which point, I sincerely believe, the government is just as likely as not to outsource that job to independent corporate contractors (think "rebuilding" Iraq) and suddenly our school will be just another franchise in a long line of failing schools.

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