It’s Time for Public Schools To Come Clean About Dropouts

Posted: August 19, 2012 in From Student to Teacher
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Over a lovely cup of heaven (a.k.a. my delicious coffee), I found this article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution and my mind was transported to my eight years of teaching in Georgia and the countless situations I witnessed where students were dismissed.  I’ve always felt my slightly abrasive and intense New York nature to be too intense for the cool, Southern populace in Georgia.  Rarely did I witness passionate educators jumping into the foray, fighting for teenagers Joe Clark style.  Whenever I expressed the urgency for a student who was in jeopardy of failing, or not graduating, I was given several different reasons why their “hands were tied.”

My partner tells me that 50% of problems with students dropping out is the parent’s responsibility, and I certainly agree.  But that’s a post for another day.

This morning’s AJC revealed that their investigative analysis has uncovered the truth about the numbers of high school dropouts in Georgia.  I distinctly remember the board of education praising each other over the past three years for the huge strides they have made in education by increasing the high school graduation dropout rate.  Now, it appears, it’s all been a lie.

Schools and the state superintendent are scrambling to fabricate prepare their official response to the nearly double increase in students who slipped through the cracks, or schools that didn’t calculate their dropouts accurately, according to the federal guidelines.  It seems all those accolades have fallen quite flat.

Of course, it will only be a matter of weeks before the blame (don’t we always have to have someone to blame?) trickles down to the teachers.  Soon enough, conversations in the office, and at Starbucks will be centered around teachers and how if they just did their jobs and motivated their students, “wouldn’t nobody be dropping out of no schools…”  I can hear it all now.

What really infuriates me is that in every school system I have worked for, I have been labeled as the “hard teacher” and had numerous complaints from parents for expecting too much from Johnny.  After all, “this ain’t college.”

Even this past year, at one of the top high schools in the nation, so called “HONORS” students used Sparknotes or Bookrags or tried to use their cellphones to cheat during tests.  They were the children of doctors and lawyers, professors and the elite of Chapel Hill;  yet they made a mockery of education with their frequent cutting of corners.

I was pulled aside by November and told, “We don’t fail Black kids here.  We have a reputation to uphold and we have to compete with East Chapel Hill.”  I was held to task because these seniors struggled to compose a simple sentence and did not do any homework, or study.  Despite using every remediation tool, and staying after school daily for tutoring (which no one attended), calling and emailing parents, giving my students my cell phone number to text me with problems with assignments, and more, none of it mattered.  All I was repeatedly asked for from students and parents was “extra credit.”

How can a teacher assign extra credit, which translates into extra work for the teacher, when students won’t do the required coursework? How dare parents allow their children to blow off an entire school year, and then when the possibility of not graduating looms in front of everyone’s faces, and the graduation invitations have been sent to Auntie Mabel in Tuscaloosa, suddenly demand extra credit to bring Bobby to the podium to collect his diploma?

Well, that’s exactly how it plays out in public schools everywhere.  Furthermore, when the children who can’t tell the difference between a comma and a period don’t pass, despite all the teacher’s interventions, the administrators and graduation coaches override the teacher’s grades and Auntie Mabel is present at the stadium with her tissue to wipe her tears of joy.

This past year, in the prestigious school with rigorous standards, a couple of my students had their grades adjusted by the administration.  And my contract was not renewed due to my “grading policies” and, according to the superintendent, I was not a “team player.”

It’s time for this country to stand up and pull the curtain back, take the handcuffs off the teachers and drag the parents into the auditorium to start looking at the truth.  It is frighteningly easy to complain and point fingers, but at this point, everyone needs to stop being politically correct and start telling the truth about it.  Everyone needs to stop making everything sound so pretty, and start dealing with the reality, if we are going to improve the health of this nation.


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