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Friday, November 20, 2009
The Graduation for All Act of 2009
Introduced yesterday by House Democrats, the Graduation for All Act of 2009 would create a $2 billion grant program from middle and high school turnarounds. While the details are still vague, the website of the Committee on Education and Labor pushes the idea of school turnarounds by allowing a school district to choose from a "Model of Success" list, ranging from "transformation to restarting the school as a charter."
The rationale begins, "The high school dropout crisis poses one of the greatest threats to our nation’s economic growth and competitiveness. Each day 7,000 U.S. students drop out of high school. More than half of all students who drop out are from the so-called “dropout factories” – the 2,000 high schools with dropout rates above 40 percent. Many of these students come from a struggling middle school. President Obama has challenged Congress and the American people to take action by asking every American to commit to at least one year of higher education or training. This will require addressing our nation’s dropout crisis and dramatically improving graduation rates."
According to the press release, “The dropout rate has reached epic proportions in minority communities,” said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL). “Only 48% of African American males and 58% of Latino males graduate from high school. The social, economic and human costs are horrific. This bill will meaningfully advance efforts to identify and help individual youth at risk for dropping out early on and we know that early identification and intervention significantly reduces the dropout rate and significantly increases the graduation rate.”
The legislation also will help prepare students for college and careers by requiring schools to provide them with their financial aid options and other college-related information. This bill includes $150 million for Early College and dual enrollment programs to allow students to earn up to two years of college credit at no cost to the student, which would help decrease the overall cost of college for these students.
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I am not going to say that we shouldn't do anything, or that certain schools need to get their act together (although, more than likely its a whole community that needs change). And I'm all for training teachers in new ways of doing things, making the system better, and that every child is different, and each has their own educational needs to be successful.
But the idea that there is a "graduation crisis" is bogus.
Graduation rates are higher than ever. Society has made the value of an education a critical indicator for success, and most of the students have responded. And since graduation rates are trending upwards, lets change everything.
After WWII, the graduation rate finally reached 50%. The study I read cited data mostly from the 1960s to the present:
"High school completion (either by diploma or GED) grew substantially from 1960 to the early to mid-1990s. This study looked at those aged 25-29 and found that in 1962 only 41.6% of blacks and 69.2% of whites completed high school, a 27.6 percentage point racial gap. By 1980 the racial gap had been cut by 63% to 10.3 percentage points, with both blacks and whites improving their graduation rates (to 86.9% for whites and to 76.6% for blacks). The racial gap was closed further to 6.0 percentage points by 1994 and to 5.0 percentage points by 2004."
Rethinking high school graduation rates and trends
According to a U.S. Census Bureua report, college enrollment is up 17% since the year 2000. ( A list of Census reports on education), and while you're on that page, check out the "A Half-Century of Learning: Historical Statistics on Educational Attainment in the United States: 1940 to 2000" study. Every indicator - high school graduation, college graduation and enrollment" all trending up since statistics were kept.
Now, do we need to work on the black-white achievement gaps? Of course we do. Do we need to keep focused on education trends and policy to maintain the graduation rate? Of course. But the notion that public schools are failing? Bogus. The notion that most teachers suck and can't do their jobs? Bogus. The notion that we need charter schools and vouchers to fix all the ills of the education system? Bogus. The notion that education schools need to increase their rigor - maybe.
I'm a former teacher, but I'm still in the education field (not in a school system, though). I know there are a few, maybe two or three per school (in a school of 100 faculty), that need to be told to find something else to do, and periodic training does work for most teachers. I know there's a lot of bloat at the upper levels of administration that need to be dealt with, both to save resources and to take pressure off teachers to do their jobs. And I agree that this blog is useful, keep their feet to the fire, make the board and administration accountable for the money they spend, support the teachers, support the schools. We need make the mission statement for every person in the school system who isn't in the classroom
"My job is to support the teachers." Let's not forget that, because when you have teachers who feel supported, they get less defensive, more productive, and their personal mission statement becomes "My job is to educate these students the best way I can."
I think that their would be lower graduation rates if children had a stronger elementary education foundation. We expose our children to so much, without giving them much depth in anything.
Anon 11:27, you raise some interesting points. But the fact is we are in a global economy, and countries such as England, India (parts of India), Sweden, Norway, Germany, etc. are educating their children much better than we are in the U.S. We are not raising a generation that will be able to compete with the top countries in the world for educated work force.
And states that have strong vocational and tech high schools have better graduation rates. In Georgia, we have some very goof two year tech and vocational colleges, but we have a weak high school tech and votech high school system.
I agree with both of you for the most part, Anons. I will say though, that you simply can't compare the US schools to other countries. First, the US is a melting pot-so we have people in class together who often speak different languages in the home. Second - we let everyone in to our schools - and we submit all of their test scores. In many other (homogenous) countries, you are tracked into a vocation or academia - and they only test those in academia. Then, they only test those that are truly college-bound. (You've seen the movie "Slum Dog Millionaire" right? India sure ain't "all that".)
Personally, warts and all, I'm a big fan of the old US of A... At least we're trying to actually live out principles of equality. That's not to say that we can't learn new teaching techniques from our friends abroad. There are great ideas everywhere - hopefully to share - not be so ridiculously competitive.
And as far as vocational high schools go - I wish DCSS would lead the way and create a truly innovative - high tech - to drool over - (ala Arabia) vocational high school...
I'm the first anon (11:27). I do think "the system" should offer more choices, especially at the high school level, vocational tracks and college bound tracks. The more variety in the sytem the better. But, I want our public system to educate the doctors and the lawyers of the next generation, and the plumbers and electricians, and the web guys, and the guys that make and fix whatever technology comes next.
But when we see initiatives addressing a "graduation crisis" then I think we have somebody who's missed the boat on the issue.
Thee may be a "boredom crisis", and a crisis of "what we're teaching doesn't match the skills they need in the outside world", but when you start addressing the graduation rate, teachers come under fire, they batten down the hatches and do what they can to survive - including graduating students who can't read and write. Let's address the proficiency issues, let's address the relevancy issues of education. Those are the fights worth fighting. Not this bogus graduation crisis.
I think I'm getting what the "first Anon" is saying - that we need to be careful to state exactly what we mean by "graduation crisis" or we will end up placing the blame on the "teachers who can't teach". Again. (Am I getting it, Anon?)
There is a problem with students leaving school with few or no skills to become self-supporting; this is a "crisis" to me because each one is probably a person who won't ever realize his/her potential. The remedy for this is to look to ways to provide an education that allows every student to graduate able to move to the next level - whether that is college and grad school or a skilled profession.
Start with a sturdy grounding in basic skills in elementary school, followed by a preparation for the high school/ vo-tech school level in middle school. Everybody should be able to read well, do consumer arithmetic, reason critically in order to make informed decisions (this is a BIGGIE in my mind), and express themselves well enough to clearly get their point across to whomver they are talking or writing to.
You get it. There are skills we all need, and there are the skills that some of us need. In the great Venn diagram of what you need to know when you get out the door and what we taught you, there's way too much emphasis on science and history that most adults never use, and not enough exploration of careers and post-high school life. I still want my doctor to take AP biology and do well in it, but does my plumber need to know even what they teach in 9th grade biology? He might benefit better from a course in entrepreneurship, basic business skills, etc. The quicker he becomes a master plumber, the sooner he can go into business for himself. [Anon 11:27am]
We are not like the former Soviet Russia in that what we want to produce are workers-we want to produce informed citizens. We all need 9th grade biology to make the political choices that are the hall mark of a vibrant democracy. No biology no understanding of issues like population pressure, water shortages, genetic medical issues, evolution, vaccination, how to avoid epidemics, what do we do about genetically engineered foods? How do I make really informed consumer decisions and do TV commercials make sense either logically or scientifically.
My brother in law is dyslexic and did not graduate from high school. He learned to be a plumber in the Navy and now owns a lucrative plumbing company. He did go back and get his GED and spoke at the graduation of the high school he didn't finish on how important a high school education is.
While I agree that biology is an important course (it's the one that will help you understand what your doctor is telling you if you get into a health issue) - I see the basic point Anon is trying to make. Perhaps we don't all need Algebra 2 or Calculus and should instead learn about compounding interest and managing credit and debt. (After all, it appears that much of our current economic woes are due to over-extended personal debt loads along with predatory banks and a stock market that had turned much more risky than ever.)
I agree with those who say we need all the basics taught - science, math, english, history, geography....
What we need to do is offer them at the right time and at the right level, depending on what the kid's ultimate interest is. If I am looking at a future doctor, then accelerated Biology, accelerated Chemistry, AP sciences, an elective in anatomy or physiology. Also accelerated math and english (I want my doctor to be able to express herself clearly and succinctly).
If I am looking at a future auto machanic, then let's get the good math (and I mean beyond basics - she will need that to understand today's cars), but do it in the context of mechanics. A mechanic needs to understand physics and basic chemistry, as well as basic biology and earth science that we all need to make informed decisions.
I keep thinking about the story a vo-tech teacher told about his kids planning out a small house they were going to build - he said they were using lots of algebra, but because they were using it in their carpentry, they never even realized they were doing it.
Let's not forget a good course in economics. Mechanics and plumbers and anyone else who owns their own business should have a sense of supply and demand, barriers to entry, opportunity costs, etc. That doesn't just go for the self-employed; all of us need to be able to plan our careers so we can sell our time to employers at a satisfactory wage.
All of us voters need a grounding in economics so we can informed decisions about policies which will affect the economic health of our country. We need solid classes in history and geography and civics as well as science.
Compound interest is an Algebra II topic. It could be emphasized more.
Basic Finance for all. Everyone needs to understand mortgages, taxes, compound interest, credit cards, etc. English -- everyone needs to be able to speak, read and write English. Math -- everyone should be able to do basic math - by rote. Then everyone should move into the areas they need for what they are interested in doing with their lives and that fit their inate abilities and family dynamics/support systems. We should keeep in mind that we need an educational system that addresses the needs of the truly gifted and provides for their learning at an appropriate level to provide for society in the future and that society also needs plumblers, carpeteners, and mechanics. Society also needs people trained in all areas in between those mentioned and many that don't exist yet. If kids are prepared to do that which they love and that which they are good at, they can all make good livings and support themselves in any area.
Speaking about finance and economics, does anyone out there know of a personal finance class/seminar that is available for teenagers? Neither my husband or I are great at money matters, and I'd like for my kids to have a better foundation than we did (and we're not necessarily the ones to teach them!). Any help would be appreciated!
I think good old Clark Howard has written a book on the subject -- "Clark Smart Parents, Clark Smart Kids" - maybe he has more -- my 16 year old son just loves Clark! He asked me to set him up with a Roth IRA recently!
Something to keep in mind when we come up with our list of what we think students should learn: once a class is required for all for graduation, does it become watered down? Because of scheduling, my student had general level civics. I hear that not much learning and effort were required or expected in either civics or 9th grade health. Word is that the second year of high school PE is also a joke. I don't think we've figured out how to teach a meaningful class to all students of all levels of motivation and ability.
Dave Ramsey has a program for kids, as well.
That's right - actually, my niece learned Dave Ramsey's financial teachings at her public high school -- in Forsyth County!
We all need 9th grade biology to make the political choices that are the hall mark of a vibrant democracy. No biology no understanding of issues like population pressure, water shortages, genetic medical issues, evolution, vaccination, how to avoid epidemics, what do we do about genetically engineered foods? How do I make really informed consumer decisions and do TV commercials make sense either logically or scientifically.
Have you seen the EOCT? Very little of that is on there, very little of that is taught. Evolution, sure, but the kids don't get it. It's way above any level they've ever seen before they get to ninth grade.And then they lump the kids going to be doctors with the kids headed for something else. And your average student won't make any of the connections you just made - not in ninth grade. I'm all for teaching kids whats important, but if you teach them concepts they'll never get , forget it. First, you can't make the connections for them. Second, you are graded on a test that they take...but told to teach creatively. Works for the advanced classes, not below.Third, I can try teaching evolution to a kid that doesn't understand basic concepts like we breathe in oxygen and expire carbon dioxide...its not going to end well. Trust me, been there, done that. 1/3 of ninth graders can't read. ninth grade retention is an issue...kids not prepared for high school. We have to fix proficiency there first.
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