Sunday, April 29, 2012

Schools Need the Right to Say "No" - Part 1

 In the debate involving school choice, rarely is one of the key elements of choice actually discussed: the right of a student to reject school, and the ability for schools to let said student go.

The very core of our education system has been hotly debated for decades now, and it seems as if everyone has an opinion related to how our schools should be run. I suppose it has to do with the fact we have all spent time in classrooms during our lives, and have seen some that work while others failed. We have all been inspired by some educator along the way, and been discouraged by others. There is general consensus that something must be done to change our public education system, but the path forward lacks even the faintest trace of concurrence.  Being a teacher myself, I feel I can provide additional insight into the problems facing our school system, and reiterate some of the whispered concerns made by teachers in every school I have been a part of. 

President Obama made a statement during his State of the Union address that, while being met with applause from the politicians before him, would push our schools in the wrong direction. Obama declared the following:
We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”
As a wholehearted Obama supporter this election, I found myself floored hearing him utter these words. After talking to other teachers, I realized I was not the only one.

School discipline is a major problem, and is not the result of “poorly trained” teachers as some may suggest.  If anything, the newest crop of teachers has been far better trained in classroom management than those that came into the profession in the 50s and 60s. Large portions of my teacher training program, both academically and within the classroom, revolved around handling difficult students in our current cultural environment. 

Having grown up in California, I have seen pedagogical fads, funding structures, and various teaching approaches come and go. Educating our children costs more than it did in the past, and yet it appears our nation is receiving a lower quality education than it did 40 years back. 

Not a day goes by that a major newspaper does not publish an op-ed bemoaning or defending the state of our education system. Fellow travelers like Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse, both supporters of the President’s plan to require students to stay in school, argue:
High school completion is, of course, the most significant requirement for entering college. While our economic competitors are rapidly increasing graduation rates at both levels, we continue to fall behind. Educated workers are the basis of economic growth — they are especially critical as sources of innovation and productivity given the pace and nature of technological progress. 

If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out.”
Other than the facts themselves, just about everything else is wrong with Levin and Rouse’s argument. It is not the degree or diploma that makes financially successful individuals, rather the type of individual that works to gain such credentials are those that possess the work ethic to succeed in the modern workplace environment. Simply forcing more young people to “earn” a diploma will not improve their chances of succeeding in the marketplace; it will only demean the credential and undermine its value to those who have actually worked towards achieving.

Ask most teachers, and they will tell you that the problem with our school system is the reluctance (or inability) to remove students from the classroom environment that are antagonistic to the process and disrupt the operation, thus hurting other student’s attempts at learning the curriculum. Forcing schools and teachers to keep students who have no interest in the process is the main problem facing our schools today. For President Obama to make it a requirement that they stay in the school system, to the detriment of the taxpayer, our society, and more importantly the students in those schools, would be a tragedy of Titanic proportions.

Read Part 2.

1 comment:

TNC said...

Excellent post. Looking forward to Pt II.