Friday, April 14, 2006

Drop-Outs -- A Need For Reform, Yes, But . . .

From Ash:

Here's my real problem with the coverage of drop-out rates. It's not really a debate over how many they are. Because there are innumerable difficulties in figuring that out --- from what is considered a drop-out to the trustworthiness of the survey. And even if the number changes, the answer is really still the same: there are too many.

My real concern is that we might take panicked actions based on the publicity over the number of drop-outs (even if we all agree on their accuracy). But frantically addressing one particular crisis in education -- even when it's a legitimate crisis -- is not the answer to saving our kids.

For example, the Time/Oprah Survey found that 61% of those surveyed thought outlawing dropping out of school would be an effective solution to the drop-out problem.

Indeed, there are already states taking steps in that direction -- stripping drop-outs of their drivers' licenses, their work permits, etc.

Laws like that are exactly the sort of hysterical, knee-jerk responses that make me so concerned. That's the kind of thing that happens when a legislator reads a single headline, and says, "We have to do something!" Then there's a press conference and, it seems like a no-brainer -- no one will dare challenge. After all, who is going to be the one who votes against keeping our kids in school? Suddenly a bill's passed before anyone's even bothered to read it, let alone consider its consequences.

But there are consequences. And the consequences are not simply that those kids who would have dropped out will now get an education.

You want to know what it's like to prevent a segment of the population from having drivers' licenses? Come to California -- where millions of undocumented immigrants cannot have licenses. They still drive. They just do it without licenses, without taking "Driver's Ed" and having proved they know the rules of the road. They drive without insurance. Taking away drivers' licenses won't stop these kids from driving. It'll just be a new reason to punish them when they get caught for breaking another moving violation, and, in the meantime, your insurance will go up because of all the accidents caused by the now-uninsured young drivers.

Unintended consequences. But that's just the beginning.

Consider, for a moment, another popular idea now making its way into law: since many drop-outs quit to get jobs, we should strip them of the ability to legally work.

I'm sorry -- but, once again, that's just another answer that's good for a legislator's list of "accomplishments" but it won't solve anything. And I don't want you to fall for that flawed logic for a minute.

According to the Gates Foundation's recent survey, a third of the kids said they'd left school because they had to get a job. Not "they wanted" -- "they had" to get a job. It isn't their choice: it's their reality.

The fact is that children are the poorest of any demographic in the U.S. With the rate of child poverty in this country as tragically high as it is, criminalization of dropping out is just cruel. If you want to know what will happen to these kids when it's illegal for them to work, look at underage runaways. They can't legally work -- so they work illegally. That's why they end up in prostitution and drugs, because they can't legally get a job. So the likelihood isn't that these poor kids are going to stay in school because a law demands it. Instead, they'll just join the labor force of those paid under the table -- they'll end up in jobs working for people who don't care about such things as fair wages and child labor laws.

A kid I know hasn't dropped out yet -- but he's got most of the "risk factors." He's poor, a child of a single parent, lives in a gang-infested area (his relatives are in gangs), he's a Hispanic speaking English as a Second Language.

He can't come to a free tutoring program because his father insists he works as a gardener on the weekends. I know his education is suffering from decisions like that -- but I also know that his gardening may be the only thing that's keeping a roof over his head.

I know a girl who dropped out at 15 to take care of her mother and her younger brother. Her father's dead. Her mother is blind, deaf, and mute.

According to the Gates Foundation, over a fourth of the drop-outs (26%) said they'd left school because they'd become parents themselves.

Just punishing these kids is not the answer. Neither is scolding them.

And, unfortunately, even the best teacher in the world in the best school in the world wouldn't change anything for these children either.

If you want to address the problem of drop-outs, you can't do it without first acknowledging the reality of these kids' lives outside the classroom. as well as on campus, and figuring out how to help there, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I questioned the percentage of dropouts who said they "had" to work, until I read this: "According to the Gates Foundation, over a fourth of the drop-outs (26%) said they'd left school because they'd become parents themselves." That's why they're working!

11:59 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Yeah, I found both numbers pretty shocking, myself. Now, they are both "of those surveyed," and apparently that's based on "focus groups" -- that are supposed to be representative and illustrative about drop-outs. And the numbers sure are being used to sound like they're representative (not by me -- at least not intentionally, I think I'm just presenting them the way the report did. At least that's what I'd tried to do.).

But when I look at it further, the report actually says the findings are not, in fact, representative, in a statistical way. Now, what does that mean? What is representative of the problem but not actually representative of the problem? I don't know. But it's not my report -- it's the Gates Foundation's. Here's the link if you want to puzzle it out for yourself:

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the purpose of this type of coverage from the media of drop out rates?

Is this an attempt to get more tax money for public schools to spend on new programs to fix the problems?

I recall a reform program that did not work in my school. The new program just made the problems worse.

Or was this an attempt to get voters to vote NO on more money for existing public schools like more money for more teachers?

I want to know why.

6:08 PM  
Blogger b1gwi11 said...

i must agree wholeheartedly with your post... stripping privledges away from kids is not going to solve anything... unfortuneately, there is no easy answer for every kid that drops out

i myself am a dropout, and i know other people that have dropped out.

our reasons are extremely different, as is our goals and what we intend to do with ourselves after having dropped out

true some of us may end up in gangs, etc.

but what bout those of us who find that traditional schooling isnt right for us?

i know myself i am just trying to move onto college, and start a new phase in my life

10:43 AM  

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