Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dress for success? In Texas, wear pads

Dress for success? In Texas, wear pads

In basketball, they rate guard play by a turnovers-to-assists ratio. In football, they use interceptions-to-touchdowns to rate quarterbacks.

I propose we start rating schools on their football-coach-to-guidance-counselor ratio.

If we did, we'd start improving our turnovers/assists ratio. Assists: when we actually help a student figure out where he or she wants to go and he/she gets there. Turnovers: when we drop the ball and the child drops out or drifts through without a clue.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, observes how, amid all the nouns and verbs, we actually do little to help students make informed choices about the future.

He visited a high school in his district and found, to his amazement, only eight guidance counselors for 3,200.

"With a 400-1 student/counselor ratio, how do we provide adequate guidance for college education?" he asked.

He said that for all the talk of college and career preparation, beefing up and enhancing school counseling is the "low-hanging fruit" with which Texas could make a big difference, if it cared.

Take Anytown High and compare the high school counseling staff to the football staff. There you have it: your priorities. Yes, these coaches teach. Most of them do great jobs motivating and counseling student athletes. We need to emulate that success.

What would be the effect if, as with its athletic staff, a high school hired teachers who also would wear hats as career guidance counselors, just like those who teach and coach? What if those teachers/guidance counselors, as with coaches, were assigned to a subset of students (call it a squad), and followed them with gridiron zeal as they navigated the high school years?

The Legislature right now is coming up with reforms to better align K-12 instruction with what colleges need. Included is a pathway to being certified "college-ready" by passing end-of-course exams in upper-level math, English, science and social studies.

On the other hand, some students could get a diploma with the "alternate performance standard" without those skills. Their high school diplomas would make them "postsecondary-ready," which proponents say would mean ready for community college or technical school. Critics call it "remediation-ready" or "not worthy."

Their concern is the prospect of creating a caste system and pegging students, particularly minorities, as rejects because they don't meet a standardized classification for "college-ready." Yes, as if every career needs advanced algebra or the ability to digest Anna Karenina.

Critics of the end-of-course certificate have a very valid concern. Texas once again is putting the outcome measure (a standardized test) ahead of the desired outcome.

The sad irony is that schools do so little to make students think beyond the test and the system being set up to peg them for success or failure.

Result: Too many children are motivated to stay in school by aversion to punishment (truancy laws; losing one's driver's license) rather than any inherent or intrinsic rewards they can conjure.

We need coaches for them — people who, beyond the classroom, tell them, "This is where you're heading," or, "There is a great place beyond these walls," or, "Just keep your options, kid. Don't let anyone sell you short. You are in control."

We know — just look in the football game program — how many people we have on staff to coach the linebackers and nose guards of tomorrow. How many people do we have on staff to guide the future optometrists, welders and Web masters?

How many people do we have to encouraging that very smart kid who can't picture herself in a traditional career and doesn't think school does a thing for her?

We need coaches for them. What is your school's turnover-to-assist ratio?

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. jpyoung@grandecom.net

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