Who’s To Blame For Our Nation’s Dropout Factories?

October 13, 2010  |  

President Obama recently stated that American students attend school a month less than kids in other countries, which put them at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy.  It is no enigma that other countries have surpassed the United States relative to education, especially in the sciences and mathematics.  To be sure, our country still has a plethora of prestigious and world-class middle and high schools- both private and public- that truly prepare really bright and motivated children for the future.  Conversely, there are a number of secondary schools that consistently perform on a subpar level, which has resulted in these institutions being labeled as “dropout factories.”

Now that education reform has become the hot topic of the land, many critics and pundits want to underscore what and who is responsible for our existing education crisis.  With approximately seven thousand kids dropping out of school per day, many conservatives have indicated that many kids do not have the “right parents.”  What exactly is meant by the “right parents” is truly troubling, but that’s another story for a different time and discourse.  Some commentators have stated that bad and underperforming teachers are the sole problem, while other critics have indicated that public policies (i.e., No Child Left Behind) are the real culprit.

So, who or what is really to blame for our current education crisis?  Is it the public policies, parents, teachers or students?  In fairness and without bias, I believe that the current crisis is the summation of all of these separate parts.  And, I will briefly provide an assessment of how each of these components, as a whole, have failed and how they can improve.

1.    The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and Dropout Factories.  Although well-intentioned in trying to establish high standards for education, the NCLB has proven to be no more than a “teaching the test” mechanism that has, in fact, kept minority and impoverished students at a disadvantage and left them behind.  It is safe to state that the NCLB has improved overall standardized test scores in reading and math and has increased accountability of schools and its teachers.  But, the outstanding questions remains, “Has this public policy enabled students to think critically for themselves?”  Exclusive of party affiliation, I think that it is safe to say, ‘No’.

One of the primary problems with the NCLB is that all of the focus is predicated on passing standardized tests in three areas: reading, writing and math.  But, what about non-tested subject matters, such as economics and free enterprise, sciences, arts, public speaking, African-American literature and history, world history, logic and critical thinking, etc?  These subjects are equivocally important.

In my professional opinion, in lieu of standardized test scores and associated school performance, students should be given a well-rounded education that is centered around the real metric- how students perform after graduation.  It is amazing how many students do well on these respective tests but somehow fall short in college, because they remain “miseducated.”  I applaud President Obama for making education reform the centerpiece of current discourse and for proposing year-round schools, but the idea of a “longer” school year will not result in any progress if the same flawed public policies remain in place.  A repeal or a major overhaul of the NCLB is imperative.

2.    Teachers and Dropout Factories.  In our current time and space, many teachers find themselves with overbearing tasks from doing cartwheels, attending to the special needs of a plethora of children in overfilled and sometimes decrepit classrooms, participating in useless workshops, etc.  To be sure, there are a lot of great teachers in our nation’s education system, and there are a significant number of educators who do not perform well.  It is safe to state there are many teachers who are simply there for a paycheck- these are the educators who contribute to the overwhelming dropout rate.

Teachers have to be given the chance to participate in quality professional development that is centered around not only around individual interests but the collective improvement of the school.  This is far better than workshops and seminars that teach them how to adhere to rigid state requirements and how to “teach the tests.”

3.    Parents and Dropout Factories.  As mentioned, I do not understand the term, “right parents,” as some conservatives have suggested.  I do believe that there are mature and immature parents.  Mature parents, which include single parents who work more than one job, show keen and persistent interest in their child’s education, participate in open houses and extracurricular activities and interact with teachers with professionalism and kindness.  Conversely, immature parents do the exact opposite, and they definitely have contributed to the blossoming of dropout factories.  It is rather conventional knowledge that the enthusiasm and accountability among kids for learning must start at home.

4.    Students and Dropout Factories.  Typically, students are left out of any meaningful discourse related to education issues.  Some commentators believe that students should not be held accountable for anything.   I wholeheartedly disagree.  For some dropouts, classes are simply not interesting, and they are not motivated to work harder.  This is unacceptable.  Oftentimes, students have to tragically drop out of school to take care of a relative or to find a job to help their families.  In such cases, it is imperative for schools to implement evening classes, more GED opportunities and perhaps allowing students to return when older.

Anthony Jerrod is a speaker, public policy expert and author of Carnal Striving Spiritual.

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