Our Country’s Future Depends on Educated Citizens

March 3, 2010

“In this kind of knowledge economy, giving up on your education and dropping out of school means not only giving up on your future, but it’s also giving up on your family’s future and giving up on your country’s future.”-- President Barack Obama

President Obama plans to invest $900 million of the fiscal year 2011 budget in strategies to get high school graduation rates up, transform the schools by bringing in new staff and training teachers to use better techniques in the classroom.  He has enlisted, Gen. Colin Powell to work with this campaign called Grad Nation which is a 10-year effort that aims to mobilize more high school graduates to attend college and reverse the high school drop out rate.

As a 37-year veteran of public education--the last 13 as a high school guidance counselor, I would like to offer the following suggestions:

1.  Increase funding for school corporations so that they can hire more teachers and limit class sizes.  These at-risk students need more one-on-one attention.  No teacher can give them the time they need in a large class. 

2.  Increase the funding for vocational schools, update and expand these programs to provide the skills needed in today’s society.  Allow students to begin vocational training at a younger age.  Not all students have the interest and/or ability to succeed in traditional academic classes.  It has been my experience that if I could encourage a student to “hang in there” until his/her eleventh grade year when they could begin vocational school in the school system where I worked, they would most likely graduate.  However, many are lost before they reach that point. 

3.  Hold parents accountable for seeing that their children attend school.  Many students are behind in their learning because they missed too much school.  Doctor’s verification should be required if a student misses beyond a few days per year. A child cannot learn if they are not in school.

4.  Graduation requirements need to fit the ability of the student.  Many students drop out because of the increased requirements (especially in math) and their problem with passing the Graduation Qualifying Test.  The State of Indiana has the Academic Honors Diploma and the Core 40 Diploma which as designated on their transcript show that the student has pursued a rigorous college preparation curriculum.  However, to get even a Traditional Diploma a student must pass two years of college preparation level math and pass both parts of the GQE.  This is the reason some students become discouraged and drop out. A student on a traditional diploma should be required to enroll in some kind of vocational education.  Because of the cuts in funding, many of the useful electives these students would have available have been removed from the curriculum.

5.  This one is the major piece in the school dropout puzzle. It is the one over which schools have no control.  Unstable home environments are the major root cause of school dropout rates.  Nearly every student that I have seen who dropped out of school before graduation came from a conflicted home situation. Many of these students have moved from one school to another often in the middle of the year.  They have lost the continuity necessary for real mastery to take place.  Many have gone from one home situation to another and feel that no one wants them or really cares about them.  They have not learned the importance of self-discipline, motivation, and work ethic.  They don’t see a purpose to getting an education.  Schools are judged by the test scores of students who come to them with these problems. This is the piece that is most frustrating to educators and the one over which they have the least control.  However, the above suggestions would give the schools more tools to encourage these students to graduate with skills needed in today’s society. 

Comments:

#1 asanta on Thursday March 04, 2010 at 12:38am

I didn’t see you mention home ‘schooling’. Parents are allowed to take their children out of school and teach what they want. They can use a religious exemption to avoid teaching biology, or anything that might test their beliefs. Most people I’ve met who have been home schooled felt they were poorly taught. Another problem are the religious who use the technology brought about by education, but eschew it for themselves or their families, and denigrate those who wish to further their education.

#2 Reba Boyd Wooden on Thursday March 04, 2010 at 5:47am

Homeschooling is a whole other issue.  There are some parents who give their kids a good homeschool education and do it for a variety of reasons. Some of our CFI Indiana members do that.  Some feel that their child is not challenged in the public school where they live.  Some have children with some special problems that they feel are best addressed through schooling them at home. I have also heard the comment that they don’t like the religion that they are confronted with at school at least by other students. I, myself, am not a fan of home schooling but there may be circumstances where that is the best choice.  Such as those above or if the school in their neighborhood has an unsafe environment.

In most situations though, I think that children need the experience of learning to interact with other children of different backgrounds and to handle situations that may arise. They need to learn to follow a schedule and meet deadlines, etc.  When I told my grandkids that some people teach their children at home and they don’t go to school, they answered in unison, “How awful!!”  Probably what they like best about school is the social aspect and having a lot of friends.  However, there are at least a couple of secular homeschool groups here in town who meet together with their children.  So, that aspect is being addressed there.  Also, they are in other activities where they get the social interaction.  One is our CFI Kids group.  Most of our CFI parents are not homeschooling their kids but some are.

What I saw in my counseling position was parents who did not want to fight with kids who did not want to go to school and an easy way out was to sign them out as being homeschooled.  There was no oversight once the parent signed them out to “homeschool” and so to most of them it meant “no school.”

I also have a problem with the narrow education and experience that the extremely religious are giving their kids. 

I think there needs to be more oversight of homeschooling as it is in Indiana at least.  Such as requiring periodic testing in major subjects.  However, some would say that the government should not interfere with how a parent chooses to education their children.

#3 Kelly Wright (Guest) on Thursday March 04, 2010 at 7:26pm

@ Asanta:  I would be interested to know how many homeschooled adults you actually know and have spoken to about their education. I have heard other people make similar comments as yours, but when I have pressed them further, found that they were referring to just one or two people. (Certainly not enough by which to judge an entire educational movement!)

Also, were the homeschooled people you know taught in the 70’s and 80’s, when homeschooling was considered a fringe activity, limited mainly to the religious devout?  Times have changed—many parents who homeschool do so because they want to improve the academic AND social education of their children. 

I find it odd that our culture thinks segregating children by age, putting them in a room for 6 hours, and asking them all to basically do the same thing at the same time (with just one adult as the role model for behavior) is the ideal way to socialize children. It is a myth (or maybe a meme) that educational institutions are necessary for proper socialization. If they are so necessary, how did we ever get along as a species before the advent of public education?

Children need social experiences with people of ALL ages on a regular basis.  They need to be around adults often enough that they don’t feel they have to base their personal decisions on a group consensus of their peers. Children need UNstructured social and play time, as well as time to explore the outdoors, which the schools have continually reduced over the last 10-15 years. They need art, music, and library time (more than just once a week!)—those are also things that have been increasingly cut from school budgets.

Homeschooling protects not just the religious teaching of Christians; it protects my right to teach evolution to my son.  Evolution is not being taught properly in many high school because of Indiana’s conservative cultural bent toward creationism/intelligent design. Teachers feel like they have to tiptoe around the subject to keep from angering parents.  Because I homeschool, my son will get a proper science education, and I won’t have to argue with the schools to get it.

Homeschoolers are not given carte blanche to do whatever they want.  Indiana law requires us to provide an equivalent education to that of the public schools, and we must have documented proof that our homeschooled children have completed 180 days of school per year.  Anyone who feels we are guilty of educational neglect is free to report us to CPS for investigation.

Government oversight does not prevent children from failing in public schools, and it would not prevent the same in homeschools.

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To Reba’s comment about her grandchildren—my son would make the same exclamation about having to go to public school, but I don’t think it means much in either case. Children are a product of their environments and, like adults, have a hard time picturing themselves in a completely different situation.

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