Public Schools Get Failing Grade in English

By Marty Richman
Hollister Free Lance, August, 2006:

Nearly one-third of San Benito High School freshmen taking a
regular English course received a failing grade for the 2005-2006
school year
… and an additional 18 percent received a grade of D.

Hollister Free Lance, August, 2006: “Nearly one-third of San Benito High School freshmen taking a regular English course received a failing grade for the 2005-2006 school year … and an additional 18 percent received a grade of D.”

“We look at this as one piece of data that will help us question the others,” SBHS Principal Debbie Padilla said. “What we’re really interested in is what’s causing this to happen.”

Excuse me for getting excited while the principal remains merely ‘interested,’ but when your house is on fire you should not stand around – you should call the fire department. The English program at SBHS needs to take action to put out this fire immediately. The only good news is the school is not engaging in social promotion just to get rid of the problem.

A poor education usually results in the double whammy – unemployment and low wages. Here are the 2005 statistics for workers age 25 and older:

n For those with a bachelor’s degree the unemployment rate was 2.6 percent and the median weekly earnings were $937.

n For an Associate’s degree it was 3.3 percent and $699.

n For a high school graduate 4.7 percent and $583.

n For high school dropout it was a miserable 7.6 percent and $409.

Without a high school diploma you’re about three times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate. Even when the dropouts are working, their median earnings will be less than half that of the college graduates. If you want a decent job or want to go to college, you’re going to need a good education.

It’s difficult to get a good education in America unless you’re able to read, write, speak, and comprehend English. Most textbooks and instructional materials are in English; language opens the way to leaning in our school systems, better opportunities, and better jobs. Half of the College Board SAT is essentially an English test. Those facts make English the most important class on the curriculum.

Americans have an advantage; English is the international language of business, science, and technology. An estimated 300-400 million people speak English as their first language, but by one recent estimate, 1.9 billion people, nearly a third of the world’s population, have a basic proficiency in English. Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and perhaps Spanish have more native speakers, but as a worldwide language it’s strictly no contest, English is in command. Those facts make English the most important language on earth.

I’m almost afraid to ask why this disaster occurred because I’m just tired of hearing the same old pass-the-buck excuses these questions always bring forth. The taxpayers blame the education bureaucrats, who blame the teachers, who blame the students, who blame the parents, who blame the taxpayers.

Sometimes, just to break the monotony, they do it the other way around or they skip a few levels, but always blaming everyone else eventually. Making excuses for the failures of our public education system has become a national pastime and we’re very good at it, but we stink when it comes to fixing those failures.

I know that there is not a chance my comments are going improve the public education system nationally, or even in the State of California, but how about locally? Can we just try to fix the problem locally, is that too much to ask of the usual suspects? Teach the students English and they will be able to learn almost anything; fail to do so, and they will fall further behind all the time.

Every potential freshman should be evaluated to determine if they actually belong in freshman English or if they belong in a remedial program instead. If remedial English is the right path for a student then English should dominate their curriculum. Double English should be the minimum, triple English, if necessary. If a similar program already exists, fix it, because it didn’t work for the 30 percent who failed or the 18 percent who just squeaked by freshman English.

Done well, this type of system will allow the students with language problems to advance across the board and that will pay huge dividends in the end. The regular English classes can move along at a pace that supports the students who can do that level of work, so they also benefit; meanwhile, the heavy lifting of remedial English classes can concentrate on the students that need the extra help.

That’s one small step for the high school, and one giant leap for common sense.

Marty Richman is a Hollister resident. He can be reached at [email protected]

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