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Monday, January 16, 2012

Why are kids dropping out of school?

Two big newspaper stories were very intriguing of late.  One discussed the number of students who had been suspended and how that was keeping children from learning.  One follower of the obvious is more school of thought suggested that students who missed school were not there to learn!  Brilliant commentary.  Most of the comments were about whether or not students should be suspended at all and if they were for what offenses.  The question of zero tolerance for misbehavior was reviewed.  Some people noted that children who were frequently suspended were more likely to drop out of school.  Seems kids that are suspended a lot not only miss learning opportunities but they also lose a connection with the school.  Makes you wonder how much research that took to figure out and who paid the bill for it.

While it is interesting to speculate on whether or not suspension helps with discipline, it is a whole other issue to consider WHY kids do the behaviors that cause them to be suspended in the first place.  The vast majority of children who are suspended are also not successful in academic subjects.   Children usually being people of relatively good mental health would rather be bad than dumb.  Why?  The answer is simple kids who misbehave in school are often seen as brave by their contemporaries who would not do such things.  Kids who do poorly in academics are thought of as being dumb by their peers.  So the average kid would rather be thought of as brave and tough as opposed to being dumb.  Also when you misbehave you draw the fire away from the teacher noticing that you are not doing the academic work because she is too busy trying to reestablish the class order.

Another issue that is getting a lot of ink right now is the issue of bullying.  So far this year 25% of the kids who are bullied are kids with special needs.  They are vulnerable and make a handy target.  They often lack the skills to fight back either verbally or physically.  And many children with disabilities have characteristics that are atypical, they look different, talk different or just don't catch on to stuff.  The other surprising statistic is that 28% of the bullies are themselves disabled.  They bully the kids they perceive as being the next notch down in the pecking order.  Kids bully other kids because grown ups don't intervene strongly enough, parents don't stress character development and because the bully gets to be on a higher rung of the ladder than the person being bullied.

I suggest that the root cause of both problems is the same thing.  No Child Left Behind has left every child behind when it comes to individual programing.  In order to ensure the highest test scores possible so that your school/class is not a failing school the so called "soft" courses are being cut left and right.  Those art, phys ed, music and other so-called non-academic courses have been scrapped to make way for more instruction in reading and math.  And to make sure that kids are exposed (and believe me it is exposure and not instruction) to all the content that will be tested, school systems have instituted pacing guides so every day teachers need to be on specific pages in the curriculum guide.  Ready or not, the teacher turns the page every day.  Smart kids have to slow down and wait, slower kids have to race to try to keep up and frequently they don't.  So kids who needed that extended instruction to catch on, or perhaps an alternative method of instruction, have now turned into the dumb kids who can't keep up or can't learn the lesson.

It doesn't take very long to go from that spot to misbehaving and/or bullying.  Both behaviors serve a similar purpose for the perpetrator.  If I am bad enough people might not notice I can't do the school work.  Or if I bully someone else it makes me feel that I may not be good at school work but at least I am  "bigger" than the kid I am bullying.

We would all be a great deal better off if we just taught kids they way they learn best and not worry if the calendar says we should be on page 156 if a child is back at page 98.

1 comment:

Reilly's Reports Rants and Reviews said...

Hey Dr. J I really enjoyed reading your article. I think we all can agree No child left behind was not a success and should be repealed. The question I have for you is how involved do you feel the federal government should be in education given that one size doesn't fit all. Thanks! and Go Terps!