Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Tale of Two High Schools, Part III: Accountability and Eligibility

How do you teach accountability?

For Aaron, it's directly related to eligibility.  Eligibility to play sports, that is.  And the bar for eligibility is set really, really low.  So low, that it really frightens me when, mid-season, I see how many kids are sitting on the bench, not playing for their team because they're on academic probation.  A typical courseload is six or seven classes but you only have to be passing five classes to be eligible to play.  In other words, an F is okay - as long as you only have one and can maintain a 2.0 average.  With the current system, an athlete with six classes can be eligible for sports with 'D's in core academic classes:  English, History, Math and Science, as long a he gets an 'A' in PE and a 'B' or 'C' in electives. An athlete who isn't in uniform isn't just struggling with a difficult subject; academically he's only barely hanging on. 

I'm struggling to understand where you draw the line between "support" and "enabling".  I'm sure it's different for every student that needs extra help.  However, one of the things I've learned about the high school's support system is that due dates aren't really due dates in classes designated "with support".

In "regular", "honors" or "mixed honors" classes, a due date is a due date.  If an assignment is due on Wednesday, March 13th, the student will only get full credit if the assignment is turned in on or before Wednesday, March 13th.  A teacher may accept late work, but in most cases will only give partial credit. Of course, teachers will typically make an exception for a student that usually manages her workload but asks for an extension before the due date. In a class "with support" however, the deadline is merely a suggestion.  As long as the student turns the work in by the end of the quarter, the work will be accepted. 

Last year, I thought that was good for Aaron because without rolling deadlines, he'd be in danger of failing core classes.  This year I'm not so sure. Never having suffered consequences for late work, he has no sense of urgency or responsibility to get his work done on time.  The one thing he does monitor though, is his eligibility for sports. When he risks becoming ineligible for sports, he can suddenly focus and produce quality work. Why? Because right or wrong, at this stage of his life, sports are far more important to him than English or Math.

English and Math are merely the means to an end and the end is the game.  So, what if we raised the bar?  What if even one 'F' was simply unacceptable?  With one 'D', a student could remain eligible as long as he provided proof that he was showing up for extra support. But two or more grades below a 'C' would render him ineligible, even if the 'A' in PE gave a boost to the overall GPA.

In high school, eligibility for high sports can be a primary motivator but what happens after high school?  Most student athletes are not going to play professionally - and if they can't get into (or stay in) college, they're not even going to play competitively beyond their senior year in high school. Raising the bar on eligibility can teach them greater accountability.  The sooner the better.