Drop Out Rates

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I am so tired of the phony credence given to ‘Drop Out Rates.’ Educrats and politicians speak of them (DORs) with reverence and awe — as if they meant something; as if they measured something; as if they made any dependable statement about the quality of a public education.

If grades were awarded based on nationally consistent standards — if an “A” still meant that a student had far exceeded the expectations, in a mentally challenging academic class, by learning and retaining 95% of the proffered material, then grades, diplomas, and drop out rates would be a valuable measurement. If a “B” still meant that a student was academically knowledgeable at a level just below the higher performers, we could put some faith in drop out rates. If students who consistently fail to be scholarly were given failure ratings and denied diplomas, then we could use Drop Out Rates as an assessment tool. But they don’t, and we can’t.

Citizens would be appalled if they understood how low some districts are willing to stoop in order to keep non-performing and uninterested students in school — thus enabling districts to keep their DOR’s at acceptable (and possibly reimbursable) levels. Antagonistic students are encouraged to stay in school, even as they disrupt classes and achieve nothing. Would-be dropouts are held, forcing the system into a dumbed-down mode so that schools can rationalize those gift-diplomas. Disgruntled teens stay, even when it is obvious to everyone, especially to dedicated students whose learning is interrupted and marginalized, that nothing is being gained by this policy.

These potential dropouts are allowed to show up, day after day, bringing no pencil; no paper; no homework, no interest in learning. Standards are continually lowered so that these students will complete something…anything…no matter how elementary and meaningless, just so the teacher has something to ‘grade.’ These students ‘earn’ a diploma based on how many years they have attended, rather than by successful academic achievement. It is a blight on the halls of academia; one that is worsened by a culture that now demands a high school diploma for so many jobs — even if the diploma is worth less than the paper on which it is printed. Too often graduation credits are based upon the number of days that antagonistic, disruptive, academically unmotivated students have filled a chair or spent in a discipline area.

Because of these restrictions on employment, students are pressured to play the game and stay in school. When keeping them in day school becomes completely unmanageable, they are transferred to ‘alternative high school’ programs. In my room, at least, they become literate, although the instruction arrives too late to turn them into scholars and they will never make up for the lost knowledge base presented in the other grades, other classes. I counsel my frustrated students to remember that school problems are generally just that — ‘school problems.’ I encourage them to understand that life will be better once they can leave the school trap. They return to visit me in later years and confirm that my advice was accurate.

If only educrats would face the fact that there are just some students who lose with every day that they remain in school. If only schools would allow any student — uninterested in, or frustrated by, academics — to just stop by the office and DOR — “Drop on Request” — without administrators making a federal case against such a sensible, personal decision.

When I was in high school during the 1960’s, I knew many students who did just that, and went on to do quite well in life. Often those were (and are) the very people most skilled with their hands; the blue-collar workers upon whom our culture so depends. In fact, my husband dropped out of school and became a journeyman meat cutter; eventually a meat department manager. He differed from today’s dropout because he had been taught excellent reading and math skills in elementary school, so had the tools to pursue learning as needs appeared and time became available. He now homeschools our ninth grade son and David, not yet sixteen years of age, has completed both algebras, geometry and is just finishing trigonometry and pre-calculus; excels in Latin, history, Greek literature, and more. With awe I watch my husband accomplish all of this at our kitchen table, while certified teachers in expensive buildings are failing to educate children to even minimal competency levels.

My grandfather, with only an eighth-grade education, provided for and raised three fine sons. My father was the valedictorian of his class and attended Michigan State University on a scholarship. His older brother was also a valedictorian, and went on to earn a PhD from Tulane University. My grandparents were well read and well educated. They were active leaders in the local educational community, even as high school dropouts. Our Amish neighbors are well educated and very skilled in many areas, yet their formal schooling ends with eighth grade. In today’s public school system, too much is made of having a high school diploma. This is especially true since the academic education, upon which a diploma was once based, goes lacking.

If schools would get back to teaching the fundamentals of reading and math during first and second grades, children would develop a strong foundation for future knowledge and thought processes. If schools were again ‘real,’ instead of hollow buildings existing for self-esteem fluffing; if schools were again ‘real,’ and actually educated students; they would find fewer teens choosing to become Drop Out Rate statistics. The battles to keep unwilling students in school, just to say they are in school, could end. However, those wanting to ‘Drop On Request’ should be allowed to do just that. Schools harm by holding; help by letting go.

Frankly, in the modern culture of schooling, assessing a public school’s academic performance based on this Drop Out Rate ‘measuring stick’ makes as much sense as evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness by assessing the color, style and complexity of the bulletin board designs in the classroom. My students quickly learn to read, write and spell, despite the fact that my one bulletin board is utilitarian and unsymmetrical — rows of charts that help my students understand writing styles — “Informative,” “Narrative,” “Informative-Narrative” — and write for differing needs. I refuse to waste time cutting out cute letters and clouds, when my time is better spent honing skills for effective remediation of “teaching disabled” teens. I have much to accomplish before they leave, holding a ‘diploma,’ to face lives of under-achievement, and under-employment.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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