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Education is Failing some students

26 Oct

I read some statistics recently that were quite discouraging about high school dropout rates. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 4.8% of white students, 9.9% of black students, 18.3% of Hispanic students and 14.6% of American Indian students dropped out of high school in 2008. Of course, these statistics are inexact as many educators would point out. They do not include students who may have dropped out of one school and entered another, or other variables. Still it is alarming to see the numbers.

Remember, considering the overwhelming majority of students are white, the 4.8% represents by far the largest number of dropouts. When doing demographics it is easy to fall into the pattern of using only percentages, they are easier to read, and some would claim, more instructive of what is happening in specific populations. I can see both arguments, but the fact of the matter is they often give a skewed picture of American society.

In virtually any category whites are going to make up most of the population discussed telling us percentages may tell us how prevalent something is in a specific racial population, but it does not give a true picture. For example, using the statistics above the number white dropouts would be 905,137 while the number of black dropouts would be 321, 561.

Of course, one dropout is too many, no matter what race they happen to be. Intervention, however, needs to be based, at least partially on race. To begin with, we need to look at teacher ranks racial make-up. Even in our urban centers white teachers account for between 76% and 91% of teachers in public schools. Having done quite a bit of research—both field and documentary, on education in general and teachers in particular, I would be the last person to suggest that white teachers are our problem. Some of the best teachers I observed working with black children were white.

No, my claim is not that race specific, the dropout problem probably has many variables like home situation, geographic relocation, etc., but having taught for 18 years I am willing to bet that a large number of students, particularly males and particularly minorities, drop out because school seems irrelevant to them.  This is not because they are not intellectually capable, far from it, some of the most disengaged students I ever encountered were brilliant. That was the problem; the pedestrian, imaginative, routine, rote learning based pedagogy of many of the people who were teaching them caused them to disengage from the process. If the teacher happens to also be disconnected culturally and culturally unaware it only makes the problem that much worse.

When I was still teaching I had a high school student who was brilliant. I will call him Johnny A. Johnny did not do homework, but aced all his tests. He consistently got C’s despite being a merit semi-finalist, because the teachers marked him down because of his failing to do homework. He also needed to lie down sometimes during the day when his brain over heated. I talked to the nurse and made arrangements with her to let him lie down, at least sometimes during my class. Some of his other teachers complained and questioned why he would get to lie down. My response to them was that if it produced Merit semi-finalists we needed to let them lie down whenever they liked and I would be happy to go find cots in the community.

We HAVE to find more teachers who take their responsibility to help their students succeed more seriously. Otherwise our dropout stats will continue to rise and we will continue to waste potential.

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