It is no secret that Joplin, like most other school districts across the United States, has a problem with keeping students in school. It is a problem that the school district has been working on diligently and we will see improvements, both as a result of steps that have been taken up to this point and steps that will be taken when the new superintendent takes the reins.
It is an issue of critical importance. In this day and age, the odds against someone succeeding without a high school diploma are astronomical. We have to do everything we can to keep students in school.
Of course, those who support educational vouchers, and who are willing to jump on anything that could boost their cause, are quick to promote private schools as a cureall for high dropout rates.
A study issued earlier this week shows that retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield has poured more than $1 million of money into Missouri politicians during this election cycle. That is not the only method through which Sinquefield promotes his pet educational and economic causes.
Sinquefield's Show-Me Institute also bankrolls Show-Me Daily, a blog which is included in the Turner Report links section, and one of its bloggers, Justin Hauke, was quick to blame public schools for the graduation problems:
A new study by the EPE Research Center and the America’s Promise Alliance finds that three out of every 10 public school students in the United States do not graduate high school. The numbers are even worse in urban districts, falling to near 50 percent on average. In some cities, the numbers are as low as 25 percent — like Detroit.
We have a real problem with public education in this country, and some form of change is necessary. So even if you’re not a converted school choice supporter, the dramatic decline in education quality around the country should at the very least leave you considering it as an option on the table.
While I am a staunch defender of public schools, I am not naive enough to say that some of the problems cannot be laid on our doorstep. We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to keep these young people in school, and public school teachers and administrators take this responsibility seriously.
But it is nonsense for the Show-Me Institute and other educational voucher supporters to say that taxpayer-financed tickets to private schools will solve or even curtail the dropout crisis.
As long as high dropout rates are treated as a school problem rather than a community problem, the situation will not significantly improve. Public schools deserve a share of the blame, but cannot succeed unless others also contribute. The schools cannot work alone.
Parents have to encourage their children to stay in school, and much of the time, with those who drop out, this is simply not happening. Everyday, we have children who leave school never to come back because they have no support system, or an inadequate one, at home. It is difficult for most of us to imagine the environment in which some of these young people are living- many of them have to deal with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, parents with substance abuse problems, or they are being shuttled back and forth between the homes of divorced parents.
And there are other problems. How easy can it be for students who are continually moving to stay in school? Every year, I have a number of students who have moved three or four times during the same school year. At the middle school level, that prevents them from getting the education they need to succeed in high school. At the high school level, many of them find it easier to just quit attending school.
So what can be done?
Other segments of the community have to contribute in order for any campaign to improve graduation rates to succeed.
The business community needs to begin or continue programs in which young people can intern or have jobs with companies, but only if they stay in school and hit the books. The fast food places and others that rely heavily on a teenaged, minimum age work force also need to make it where these workers are encouraged to stay in school, rather than using these dead-end jobs as an excuse to leave learning behind.
And it would be productive, as one of my colleagues noted a few days ago, if our churches could join in, and maybe devote a sermon every once in a while to this issue that affects so many members of their congregations.
What is continually overlooked are the number of young people in difficult situations who stay in school thanks to the efforts of teachers and administrators who take an active interest in their well-being and go out of their way to give them every opportunity to succeed. Teachers were looking out for these young people long before anyone started talking about a dropout rate problem. We did not need to be told that increasing the number of who students who graduate was a new goal. We already cared about the students enough to do everything we could to keep them in school.
That being said, as long as the politicians cashing their Rex Sinquefield checks continue to put all of the blame on public schools, the dropout problem is not going to be solved. In fact, the money that is being spent and the time that is being wasted trying to push vouchers as the magic cure for American education, is only serving as a distraction that may very well keep us from being able to seriously address the problem.