This follows along with the previous post about the valedictorian complaining that high school was a waste of time. In the name of self-esteem, we have dumbed down the curriculum so far for so long, that current teachers now think the low standards are the kids' idea. From yesterday's NYT:
Bronx Sixth Graders Master Mysteries of the Biology Regents
By APRIL SIMPSON
Published: July 5, 2006
High school students statewide struggle to pass the Regents exams required for graduation. But at a small Bronx school, a group of sixth graders passed the biology Regents last month, surprising their teachers, although not themselves.
"It wasn't as hard as I thought," said Jose Castillo, 12, who earned an 80, the group's highest score. Passing is 65. "I have taken practice Regents, and they were harder than that."
Jose's school, the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, opened two years ago with one sixth-grade class. Adding a grade each year, it will eventually serve the 6th to 12th grades. It is one of dozens of small, theme-based public schools that are central to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education policy.
Although the biology Regents is usually taken in ninth grade, teachers at this school felt that their students needed a challenge, so they essentially started teaching ninth-grade biology and added test preparation.
Ten of the 23 students who took the exam (known formally as the Living Environment test) passed with marks between 65 and 80 on a 100-point scale. Of the 51,000 students who took the exam citywide in the 2003-4 school year, 58 percent passed.
"Our idea is that if we can make math and science fun and engaging and rigorous, then children will want to do it and achievement naturally follows," said Kenneth Baum, the principal.
Keith Sheppard, an assistant professor of science education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said that for sixth graders to pass the Living Environment Regents was uncommon, but not unheard of. "Some of the Westchester districts have noted that their life science curriculums are similar to the ninth-grade Regents," he explained.
Still, he said he disapproved of encouraging sixth graders to study for the Regents because they do not develop "an understanding of scientific ideas."
But at Urban Assembly, officials said they were thrilled to see what their students could accomplish. "We didn't know that 11-year-olds were sponges that large for knowledge[emphasis mine]," Mr. Baum said. "It really opened us up to their possibilities."
The school was created with the help of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit group that has established other theme-based schools. It is housed in the basement of a condominium building in Riverdale, awaiting a permanent home in September in the South Bronx. Most of its 155 sixth and seventh graders are from west Bronx neighborhoods and are poor, according to school officials.
Recently, the sixth graders had their final lab of the year, in which they focused on dissecting a three-foot-long pig. Each student drew a diagram of the animal's inner organs and answered teachers' questions.
When Mr. Baum observed a group cutting the skin around the pig's head, he covered his eyes and turned away, but the children did not flinch.
Dhurata Dobraj, 11, pointed at the cranium with a gloved hand: "It's really hard, because when you cut through the skull, you can cut through the brain at the same time, so you have to be very careful." Dhurata earned a 67 on the exam.
It was the culmination of months of hard work. Since February, the students have attended 17 Saturday classes during which they dissected earthworms, frogs and the class favorite, sharks. Jennifer Applebaum, who teaches math and science, assigned extra work from high school and college textbooks, supplemented with magazine articles. Ultimately, the students completed 20 hours of high school lab work. They also received help from English teachers in understanding test questions.
St. Joseph Hall, 11, who earned a 67, attributed his success to rigorous preparation. He now believes that with enough drive, he can pursue his dream: curing AIDS.
"When you get that inspired, that motivated, you feel like you can do anything," he said.
I'd like to point out that these are not gifted kids. They attend a small magnet school, but nowhere in the article does it mention that these are high ability or high intelligence kids. Imagine, regular kids from poor families took the 9th grade biology test as 6th graders and nearly half passed. That's only slightly below the pass rate for 9th graders. Not only did they pass, but they are excited about the material, and attended intensive Saturday classes because they were so excited to learn.
And the teachers didn't know that 11-year-olds were capable of understanding the material. It's not only gifted kids who are suffocating intellectually in the classroom. The cult of positive self-esteem has done disastrous things to our educational system. Teaching to the lowest common denominator is bad for everyone's kids.
school, education, positive self-esteem