Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dropping out....

The local paper ran an article yesterday about the state of Georgia possibly raising the dropout age from 16 to 17. For many, I know the gut reaction is, "Great, keep them in school and off the street!" But I believe this will have a detrimental effect on our already floundering local system, leading to more chaos in the classroom, more budget woes, and more student flight to online learning and private schooling. I grew up in this system, taught in this system for six years, have a husband teaching in this sytem, and have a son in high school in this system. I know whereof I speak! I commend our board superintendent for advising caution, and I applaud the board reps who are against the change.

Our high schools are largely "run" by the miscreants, in the sense that they drive most policy decisions, school climate and academic opportunities. Should everyone have the same resources and opportunities? OF COURSE! But students who WANT to be in school and students who DO NOT WANT to be in school need very different approaches. Forcing a student to stay in school will not improve the outcome.

At my son's school, students who don't care about their education often trash the cafeteria and hallways, and partake and sell drugs in some restrooms. At school assemblies, they yell and almost riot. The boy's restrooms have no doors or toilet paper (sound like another institution? prison maybe?). He is fortunate in that he qualifies for AP classes, with great teachers and students. However, he still has to survive inside the school building. Due to changes we made to his schedule earlier this year, he was in a lower level English class for about two weeks, until thankfully a spot opened up in an AP class. The students threw books in the room and took his paper to copy answers all around the room. As a teacher, I talked about just doing your work, trying to connect with peers, etc. He remarked, "well, all the white students talk about beating up gay people, and all the black students talk about how much they hate whites. I don't think I can connect with those two mentalities."

My husband teaches in the system at a middle school. The alternative schools have a revolving door, with students coming back and forth, causing chaos in the regular school when they return. I strongly believe in alternative settings, but you need adequate resources and you need to keep students there for the year, possibly permanently. Three strikes and you're out is not a bad idea. I taught at a private institution that had resident students who have gone through the foster care system and were in danger of incarceration, and day students who had either been kicked out of public or private schools. Class sizes were small, and teachers had training to meet the needs of the student population. Everyone was in the same boat, so to speak. I like to say I saw miracles happen, but those miracles often took several years.

I challenge churches and civic groups to step up and help our young people - don't put it all on our already taxed school system. I challenge every board member to visit the schools they serve on a daily basis, and drop in unannounced in classrooms, lunchrooms and yes, even restrooms. Not to spy but to get a good sense of what teachers and administrators are dealing with. This is not the year to step up the dropout age; not until everyone can step up and admit we have a huge problem that needs fixing.

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