Is this somebody's idea of reform?
If you ever say "reform" or "high expectations" to a teacher, and the teacher turns and runs the other way, please excuse him. "Reform" and "high expectations" might sound good to the average layman, but to someone who actually has to teach classes, they often mean that the idiots are back at it again. As I perused the Minneapolis Star/Tribune the other day, I saw that certain reformers in the Minnesota State Legislature are back at it again. Their idea to improve education in our state: force all kids to stay in school until they are at least 18-years-old. It's enough to make a grown man cry.
The subtitle to this article reads, "Proponents say it would signal the state's strong educational expectations." Puh-lease!!! Any classroom teacher can tell you that "high expectations" does not equal kids simply being in school. High expectations should mean that the kids who are in school perform at a reasonable level. Forcing sixteen and seventeen-year-olds who don't want to be there to be in school ends up lowering expectations, not raising them.
A case that illustrates the futility for forcing kids who have no interest in education to stay in school involves a student of ours from a few years ago who got into trouble with the law. The judge in his case made it a condition of his probation that he be in school. Well, the kid came to school alright, but instead of going to class, he just wandered around the hallways. Our principal brought him into his office and asked him, "Aren't you concerned about what this means for your probation?" The kid's answer: "The judge just told me I had to be in school; he didn't say I had to go to class."
I'm sure the judge in that case was well-meaning; he just didn't know any better. A superintendent of schools, however, should. Apparently St. Paul's superintendent of schools, Meria Carstarphen, doesn't. She made a statement for the Star/Tribune article that is so wrong that I have to wonder if she's ever actually been in a high school classroom. She said, "When kids drop out everyone loses."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Students affect other students, and anybody involved in education should understand that. In the great majority of cases, when a student drops out, many of that student's former classmates gain, and some of them might gain greatly. It is depressing that someone with the power of a big city superintendent is ignorant of that.
Every year, my American History classes get better as the year goes along because we get rid of some malcontents. Most of ours end up going to our ALC, but some do actually drop out. Good riddance! The kids that leave have no desire to learn anything, they make no effort, they are often disruptive, and they drag everybody down. There is no question that the effect of their leaving on the education that takes place in my classes is positive.
If someone wants to have a program to emphasize the importance of education to troubled kids, I would be all for it as long as that program emphasized to those kids that they have to perform--they have to be willing to behave, and they have to be willing to try. If someone wants to start a program to encourage kids who have dropped out to decide for themselves to come back to school and take their education seriously, I would be all for it. That would actually make sense.
Dropping out is not a good thing, but it is a symptom and not a cause of educational problems. I'm sorry that dropouts have gotten lost somewhere along the way, but the St. Paul superintendent has it backwards--if we force kids who have no desire to learn to stay in school, everybody will lose.