Dropouts and Graduates

Bill Neinast


Vill Hammond’s guest column in Friday’s issue of this paper was interesting.

Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, discussed the recent study of young people who did not progress beyond the eighth grade of school.  According to this study of all Texas students who were eighth graders in 2001, 27% did not graduate high school in four years.  Only 19% of that class completed any type of post-secondary education.

His three paragraph conclusion is, “The study puts into perspective the performance of our education system.  It looks at completion numbers, and the numbers are terrible.  People can argue all day long about what kind of measurement we should use to hold our schools accountable.

“I think this one does a good job, because there is very little wiggle room.  You are either successful in getting students a high school diploma and post-secondary training, or you are not.  This study shows we are not.

“If our children are going to be successful in life, the education community is going to have to step up and do better.  The legislature, school boards, and administrators are going to have to hold the system accountable.”

The statistics are bad enough.  Unfortunately, Hammond’s conclusions are even worse.  They fly in the face of the truism that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.

Metaphorically, students are led to the water or schools by the truancy laws.  Once there, however, some cannot be made to even try to learn enough to graduate much less be interested in additional academic or vocational training after a high school diploma.

With that in mind, laying the blame for the poor school completion rates on the school system and educators is a bit harsh.

My granddaughter, Emily, teaches history and geography at Anderson High School in Austin.  She will not go as far as I do in defense of the schools.

She believes more students could be motivated to learn and progress if teachers were allowed to make their classes more fun and interesting by responding to the students’ desires and interests.   The teachers are hide bound, however, by what she calls the road maps established by the administrators for their  teachers.  (Anderson does not use CSCOPE but follows the curricular developed in house.)

But, here, let Emily tell you herself, “Texas requires their teachers to teach materials according to the TEKS, or Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which will then be on the end of course exams and STAAR tests. Generally, the way that most teachers teach the TEKS that we are required to by law is by teaching straight from the Texas-made and approved textbooks. The lessons that the textbook gives are for the most part decent, but usually consist of a short hook activity followed by reading and notes from the chapter. And I just don't
agree with that. I don't think that it's crucial for the geographical location of Kosovo to be imprinted in a 15 year olds brain, nor do I think that that student will remember its location in six weeks. My goal is for that student to hear ‘Kosovo’ and think ‘okay, Eastern European country, former Yugoslavia, conflicts with ethnic groups... Probably currently struggling economically and politically…’  But we don't learn that in the books. That comes from an inquisitive student saying ‘hey there's a country on the map you're showing us that isn't found in the book - why?’ Geography is often seen as a blow off class, but I do my best to show my students the wonders of other cultures and how the world's history and geography has impacted why things are the way they are currently. It's difficult to do that when sticking to ‘this is what I need to have taught by this time.’ I find that my best classes happen when we get
on tangents. Last week we were learning about oil in Southwest Asia (why they have to know how oil is formed seems somewhat irrelevant... It's a non renewable resource and we can stop there; lets not spend a whole hour and a half on oil formation) and how oil has dramatically changed the lifestyles and livelihoods of many people in those countries. We were looking at a picture in the book of a before and after shot (50 year difference) of Dubai. We were discussing the influence that technology had in that region, and I was joking that I grew up without a cell phone and I survived just fine.... Which then turned into a discussion on the good and bad effects of technology in present and future generations. It was amazing and everyone seemed genuinely interested.” 

Emily’s description of several hours in her class gives some credence to Hammond’s opinion.  The rigid teaching methods required by TEKS and STAAR make schools a dull place to spend eight hours every day.  It does not, however, address the other major factor in this discussion.  What about family responsibility in the matter?

If a student gets no guidance, discipline, or expectations from home, how can teachers who have him in their care for only a few hours five days a week motivate him to become a solid, producing member of society?

I never told my children that they had to go to college, but all four of them are college graduates.  One is a lawyer, one an oil drilling supply company executive, one a bank vice-president, and one a CPA/CIA.  I recently asked each of them independently, “Why did you go to college?”  The four answers were identical, “Because I knew it was expected of me.”

So here’s the perspective.

If a student without an attitude something like that of my children is forced into school by a truant officer, what teaching methods and practices can steer him toward a college mortarboard or anything similar?


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