Education is a vast enterprise, covering the scope of human existence. Currently our nations entire bureaucratic focus is to raise our test scores. This starts on a national scale and penetrates right down to the roots of each individual. Obviously, to increase test scores, you remove those who are pulling down the average.

Since our obsession with test scores has mushroomed, so has our dropout rate. More students are failing to graduate. Is there a correlation?

It seems from personal experience that as soon as a child has taken his last DSTP in March of his 10th grade year, he is considered a lame duck, and is left in educational limbo. Of course that is not true, all school administration officials will sound…..but for those skeptics I challenge them to compare the intensity that exists before the test to that of the educational process that occurs afterward.

So from society’s point of view, what good does it do to increase test scores marginally, even as we fail to graduate more of those same students? In energy talk…..we are drilling a dry well.

Since Delaware, due to the relationship of its size to its wealth, is the perfect laboratory to test this rethinking, we should begin debating the use of graduation rates to rank our schools.

But wait,…. some of the more astute will say. That is just what we did before testing and people were being passed to the next grade even though they were not ready? They are right. Graduation rates alone should not be the final word in ranking a school.

When struggling with a problem, it is always prudent to ask, 1) who is doing it right and 2) how can we do what they are doing. Reinventing the wheel is usually fun, but is always much more expensive than purchasing one cheap that does the job.

Except for the US, almost all other industrialized nations have a comprehensive exam that is taken post secondary school. We have two that could be used. The ACT and the SAT. Our higher educational institutions have relied on these two tests for half a century to determine the future potential of a high school graduate.

So what if we made the SAT mandatory? To be taken at the end of the senior year? For one, most college bound students have already taken it twice, so perhaps they may pull off their highest score yet……. 2) It is pre-standardized making the act of developing a separate state test nothing more than a waste of money. 3) It can be trained and taught within a curriculum that begins with the seventh grade. 4) Every student can be given the pre-study books out today that not only trains one on the questions that will be asked, but in the explanations provided, actually teaches how to solve the problems better than all but the most motivating teachers on the planet. 5). As a student graduates, the test score beside their name, gives future institutions a clear idea of whether they deserved to graduate.

Therefore, by streamlining the DSTP to blend and meet with the future criteria of the final Comprehensive Exam (SAT), we can use that data to determine and rate the effectiveness of each student, each teacher, each school, each district, each state, as well as the quality of our nation’s educational output compared to our intellectual rivals for future economic opportunities.

Now that we have a way of measuring results, it is time we get to the heart of the problem and figure out how to stem the drop out rate that is extremely high in schools where our poverty is the highest.

Again we turn to someone who has succeeded. The inner city district showing the most success is the Boston District. Basically they have found that it is rather cheap to target those individuals where intercession is needed, intercede, and follow through up to the point they graduate.

Delaware does well in the lower grades (K-5). Our problems develop first at the middle school level, and continue into the district’s high schools. Based on the inner city districts of other cities, we can be reasonably assured that if and when a Wilmington District is reborn, that it will have the highest drop out rate of all Delaware’s schools. Especially if nothing is done to intercede.

The intercession dollar amount tabulated in Boston was between 600 to 800 additional dollars needed per student. In Delaware this funding will need to come from other sources outside the current revenue flow patterns for our schools.

The Chicago school district study reveals an even finer point. Based on correlations with those who failed in freshman year or 9th grade, with those who failed to graduate, by interceding just with those failing or about to fail (D), one could make drastic reductions in the graduation failure rate, and increase the numbers of those continuing education beyond high school.

The most interesting facet of the study was this caveat. Interviews with 8th graders still showed strong positive outlooks towards their future. Many thought they were going to college, or getting a great job. But physical data directly shows that those who fail one grade in freshman year, will probably not go all the way to finish high school.

One failing grade during freshman year has not been considered critical. The student has three years left, they can make it up. But evidence shows that the tendency exists to fail another courses the next year and the year after that. It is the accumulative effect that disillusions most students who then fail to apply excessive effort.

100% success rate is a worthy goal, and may be achievable. However my concern is reducing the rate of drop outs.

What worked in Chicago was targeting those in freshman year who needed additional help, and giving it to them. Once they had the basics down pat in algebra, the tended to do well on their own in the upper classes.

Of course parents and society have a part to play in the ennui occurring in each student. But even those students who had nothing to go home to, if given proper respect, encouragement, and instruction at school, they too began to believe in themselves despite their economic surroundings.

This is just one head of Delaware’s hydra of educational problems. But for someone looking for a bang for the buck, and willing to donate substantial funds to do Wilmington’s poverty stricken schools some good, this intense focus on incoming high school freshmen, just might to the trick…………

Positivity works with children. Negativity works for wizened adults. Unless you turn an inner city school into a meaningful experience for each student who lives in an inner city environment, you give them no reason for wanting to succeed.

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