Tag: Brent Staples


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The Read


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What’s happening inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day: Losing track of the black kids, Texas style*: Black students account for 15 percent of school…

Two dropout factories later, Dontike Miller is now studying for a GED. And it isn't a Good Enough Diploma. Photo courtesy of AP

Two dropout factories later, Dontike Miller is now studying for a GED. And it isn't a Good Enough Diploma. Photo courtesy of AP

What’s happening inside — and outside — the dropout nation. Updated throughout the day:

  1. Losing track of the black kids, Texas style*: Black students account for 15 percent of school enrollment in the state, yet account for a quarter of the 13,100 or so 7th-through12th grade students for which the state’s traditional and public charter schools could not account, according to a report from the Texas Education Agency. Some districts and schools can’t account for as much as 12 percent of their middle-and-high school students. Nancy Smith of the Data Quality Campaign, which advocates for improving school data systems, tells the Austin American-Statesman that the fact that its a little odd that blacks account for so many of the unaccounted student population; it appears to be less a systemic data problem than possibly a racial issue.  Jimmy Kilpatrick, the Texan who runs EducationNews.org, on the other hand isn’t surprised at all (and neither am I). Says Kilpatrick: “Just look around crack houses and the jails and you will find all the “lost” blacks. These kids dropped out by 4th grade and few cared!”
  2. Wielding clout: As I’ve noted previously, teachers unions are well-placed to wield clout inside the nation’s 50 statehouses and at the local level. Not only do they have the bodies — through local affiliates and the teacher corps — to lobby legislators on behalf of their goals, there is also the warchests they build up thanks to dues collected from the rank-and-file. So it’s no surprise that the New York Public Interest Research Group finds that the New York State United Teachers — the largest affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — is spending $2.3 million on winning budget votes in local districts. Essentially, says NYPIRG’s Blair Horner to the Examiner, United Teachers is basically wielding its warchest the way one would use  “a Howitzer on a mosquito.”
  3. Meanwhile the United Teachers is also spending $2.8 million on lobbying and campaign donations this year, according to NYPIRG. Only Verizon, the phone giant, spent more lobbying and backing politicians.
  4. When a good premise goes bad: Former University of Kentucky Professor Martty Solomon asks a good question in his EducationNews piece: Why embark on reforms with no facts or research. But then, he delivers a mishmash of pseudohistory and rubbish: Bashing the No Child Left Behind Act for allegedly turning schools into “testing factories” even though, if anything, the tests are hardly high-stakes or even very difficult for those who are actually taught the curriculum. Before that, he takes shots at the concept of providing college-preparatory — rigorous, solid — curriculum to students, blaming the introduction of such high standards for the dropout crisis; this despite the fact that few students graduated from high school for most of this century, that graduation rates may have been low for decades and that high schools were originally developed as prep schools based on the concepts expoused by legendary Harvard University president Charles William Eliot. High schools only became comprehensive during the 20th Century, when educators — driven in part by the belief that immigrant children and blacks were incapable of receiving a college prep education, pushed for a diversity of choices (including shop classes) so that kids would stay in school, if not receive a high-quality education.
  5. Not that it’s worth the paper its printed on, but still: Just 54 percent of Wisconsin adult education students testing for the General Educational Development certificate — the not Good Enough Diploma as I call it around here — completed the battery of exams needed to gain it, according to the American Council on Education. That’s lower than the 86 percent average. Only 44 percent passed it. The real question that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel should have asked is how many dropouts taking adult education classes for the test actually completed the classes.
  6. The other question that should be asked? How many of those students are 16-to-18 year-olds who should be in high school in the first place. I’ll tell you this much: In Indiana, high school-participating teens accounted for 30 percent of the adult education enrollment. That was the third-highest percentage after Alabama and Vermont. The answer to the question would give some real insights into how poorly Wisconsin’s children are faring in school.
  7. How about just giving the teens a strong academic education they can use anywhere: Such a statement goes counter to the position of school superintendent Paul R. Hay in the Mercury News, who contends that dropouts should learn technical skills. Essentially, one can conclude from his piece that he is suggesting a typical educator line: That at-risk students and dropouts are too inept to learn Trigonometry, Algebra or pre-Calculus (the first two, by the way, are used in welding and machine tool-making, both of which can be considered high-skilled ‘technical’ jobs). My question: Why can’t a plumber know Chaucer too? In fact, I know plenty of bus drivers in Indianapolis and in my hometown of New York that are better-traveled (and read) than some reporters, teachers and stock brokers.
  8. Cutting out the shenanigans*: The New York Times actually calls for a smart improvement in the No Child Left Behind Act: Make states actually show that they are actually improving student learning instead of playing the gamesmanship of lowering standards, cut scores and other moves. One idea from the editorial board — or more likely Brent Staples, the resident education guru: “Congress needs to take the testing issue head-on. It should instruct the NAEP board, an independent body created by the government, to create a rigorous test that would be given free to states that agreed to use NAEP scoring standards.” Agreed.

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