Sunday, November 16, 2008

Our Declining Graduation Rates! (and my lack of blog entries)

First, in case anyone out there is reading this, I want to apologize for a lack of entries. This past week was the Homecoming week at the high school where I teach and coach cheerleading. I was engaged all week in preparations for the big events -- pep rally and the homecoming game.

Back to reality ...

The Week Magazine (, which is my favorite news magazine subscription because of its brevity and balance (what can I say, I'm busy!), reported a blurb from the New York Times in its November 14, 2008 issue. I'm quoting: "The U.S., which long enjoyed the world's top high school graduation rate, has fallen to 13th place behind such countries as South Korea, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. The U.S. is now the only country in the developed world where young people are less likely to graduate than their parents were."

Wow! That is disturbing, and, yet, I am not at all surprised by the fact; however, I am surprised by the lack of attention such a disturbing trend is receiving. Hello world! I really feel like people are blind to the problems in our system. I've been engaged in a few online conversations about some of the issues -- mostly those prompted by the Time article with which I opened my blog.

I posted the following on one blog:

This article definitely touched a nerve with me. I think that most educated, concerned citizens can recognize that our public education system needs repair. In my head, I've been playing around with trying to create a 10 point list of the things that need to be done to fix the system. One of those major points has to do with some of what this article proposes.

I agree that, academically, for many the last two years of high school are a complete waste. I believe this wastefulness is a result of the trend towards forcing all students to fit a particular mold: the high school, then college, then professional career mold. The students in my classroom who do not fit this mold are evident from the first days of school. I teach ninth grade. A large portion of our high school populations are not equipped and/or not interested to pursue careers that would require higher education. Why are we forcing all of them to try to follow in that path?

What happened to vocational schools and technical schools? They weren't even an option when I was in high school. I know too many people who dropped out or are going to drop out because the standard high school curriculum has nothing to offer them.

Why can't there be many choices? There are, after all, many different choices once we leave the public education system, but we are failing to meet the needs of the public as a whole.

1. Students who are not academically inclined are not lost causes. Almost everyone has some kind of aptitude. We should be finding these aptitudes early and steering our youth in directions that will bolster their strengths. Send students to vocational and technical schools so that they can graduate from high school with a diploma, some skills, and the ability to support themselves and make educated life decisions.

2. Students are are academically inclined, but who would meet the criteria of "average" should be given some boosts in the first two grades. 9th and 10th. At the end of 10th there should be some indication if they are going to mature academically. If so, carry-on in our standard college-prep education. At the end of the four years, they can decide for themselves. If, at the end of 10th grade they are not showing any stronger aptitude, they can switch over to a more specific, vocational preparation and graduate with some job skills or go ahead to the community college to finish an education with a specific career in mind.

3. Students who are academically gifted can do what they are still doing today. Take their classes at their local public high school. Do their best. Take more and more advanced classes. Possibly take some classes as dually-enrolled students or take the AP/IB classes available at their high school.

I just don't understand why the system insists on trying to make every student go to a four-year university and leaving all the others who don't fit this mold languishing in the hallways with the bathroom pass. Those students know that this system isn't going to do anything for them. They aren't stupid!

And ... in response to another blogger who doubted my state's "college prep" curriculum, I posted the following:

Regarding Florida not really having a college preparatory curriculum:

You are correct on two points.

1. My state administers its "exit exam" called the FCAT at the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. The state is basically saying "we have taught you everything that we think you need to know by the end of 3rd quarter sophomore year. Of course, I'm convinced they administer the test at that time so that the schools have two more years to get all the students who don't demonstrate competency up to passing level. Of course, the retake is a simpler format than the original exam, anyway.

2. As a result of trying to force all students to fit into the mold (to which I referred in my original post), we high school teachers are stuck teaching to the middle group. The higher-performing students get easy A's. The lower-performing students are left behind.

Regarding the concern over maturity of 16-year-olds:

Our system no longer requires responsibility, accountability, or maturity from our students; therefore, they aren't learning those skills. Because teachers and curriculum is now being watered down to aim for the middle ground, many students are able to get by with very little effort.

If we appropriately challenge and educate our students at the high school level and before, they will be up to the challenge. They will mature. Veteran high school teachers (the good ones, at least) will tell you that the maturity level of the students is decreasing every year. The kids aren't changing. Our highest expectations of them are changing. If the most we expect is what we are looking for today, then we shouldn't be surprised that our 18-year-olds are immature and ill-prepared.

Moving on ...

The conversation is interesting to me, and at least I saw that there are a few other people out there who are interested. I'm just wondering how lost we are going to have to be before people start asking for directions ... or at least before they start giving a crap.

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