Friday, September 14, 2012

What will not get resolved — we sure haven’t resolved it yet — is the staggering failure and human potential tragedy represented by that 40 percent dropout rate (of the Chicago Public Schools). Why haven’t we? Because it’s hard. Because it cuts to the very core of society. Failure among Chicago public school kids is acceptable to the rest of the city and country because it’s not their kids. The dropouts don’t even look like their kids, generally.

The one school stat that nobody’s discussing


Last Modified: Sep 14, 2012 07:52AM

If I ran a hospital where 40 percent of the patients who checked in died rather than getting better, how long would you allow me to debate the details of our doctors’ salaries, our hospital care guidelines, or specific room amenities before you raised a finger and said, “Hey, let’s talk some about that 40 percent dying part. Because that would seem far more important than whether your doctors buy their own scrubs or not.”

This is a very interesting analogy.  In point of fact, amongst Medicare patients who check into hospitals, we can expect something like 115,000 of them to DIE from some cause that is entirely unrelated to the reason for their initial hospitalization.  Such deaths are known as IATROGENIC (physician / hospital induced) DEATHS, and, depending on what you think of another 115,000 old fogies dying off sooner than their maker probably had inteneded, this might actually be REAL news.

Not all that long ago, the Boston Herald ran an article about one of the Boston-area hospitals that cut their patient mortality rates by 75%.  How did they do this?  They insisted that hospital personnel WASH THEIR HANDS at everyopportunity.  i.e., 16th century technology! Yeah!  Boo-rah!

But, in point of fact, the 40% of students who drop out, do NOT die.  So, this is not exactly the same thing as a hospital which manages to save 60% and kill the other 40%.  Not even close to being the same thing.

Here's another interesting 40% statistic that comes from Lewis Lapham:  40% of adult Americans are functionally illiterate, and live in terror of being discovered for their functional illiteracy.  This does not speak particularly highly of the educations that these people received,  Did they all drop out? 
That’s basically my attitude toward the spectacle of the 2012 Chicago teachers strike. Teaching is hard, and teachers deserve respect, and I am not saying that 160,000 of the current 400,000 Chicago public school students will drop out because they have lousy teachers. If I had to guess, I’d say for every student driven off by mediocre teaching — or no air conditioning, or lack of counselors — there’s another who would have been lost were it not for a great teacher. Maybe two.

At age 16, the student has the right to drop out.  High school, as it is presently taught, is NOT for everyone, because not everyone is a candidate to go on to college, and get a college degree in the humanities, business, the sciences, etc.

Some of our human resources are skilled with their hands - they like to build things - things made of wood, things made of steel, things made of engines.  One must be very lucky to attend a high school that offers programs in the trades.  Very lucky. We tend to not have them at all out here in suburbia, where our students are dying by degrees (suicides, narcotics) - and where every child's parents dream of their children getting a "good" education (the more history a grade school, junior high school, and senior high school student gets, the more ignorant that student becomes of history, and would probably be SHOCKED to discover that history is being made IN THE PRESENT TIME.

POVERTY is the primary reason for our children failing in schools.  Children born into poverty that go to bed hungry, that eat paint chips, that have uneducated parents, scratching and clawing away to make their way in a society that would rather not see them, would rather marginalize them, would rather BLAME THEM for their poverty which was in many respects bequeathed upon them from birth (being born into the unlucky sperm club).  Children born in to poverty enter school with a vocabulary of about 500 words, as opposed to children not born into poverty who enter school with a vocabularly of about 1,000 words.

But that dropout number sits there and ticks. I’ve seen it cited as high as 44 percent; as with all statistics, there’s an amazingly wide range of opinion regarding what the true figures are and what they represent.

Whatever the actual number, it’s been ignored lately — the only story I saw it in was mine, plus a William Bennett column quoting me (queasy company to keep, I admit). Maybe part of the game is we have to assume students want to learn, that they are coming to school to soak up good teaching. Otherwise, what’s the point of sweating all this? In light of 40 percent of students dropping out, why bother with teachers at all? Why not just hire security guards — cheaper, less training required — to keep an eye on teens as they sit in classrooms watching TV, awaiting the inevitable moment when they shrug and wander into the street to live whatever kind of life you can live without a diploma?

There actually WAS a time in this country when one COULD earn enough money to put a roof over the head of his family, to put food on his family's table, to be able to buy new shoes (but maybe only one or two pairs a year) for his children, and able to afford to have a wife to stay at home and play the role of HOUSEHOLD ENGINEER (an unpaid role, which is even better than SLAVE labor, when you think about it) and to do these things WITHOUT a diploma - happened all the time in Streator, IL, back in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's, when the town had the worlds two largest glass manufacturing companies.

If we were to educate our children WELL, and thoroughly, they would learn to despise the so-called "American Free Market System" which in point of fact is a Corporate Welfare State, where the profits are privatized, and the losses are socialized (subsidized by the tax payer so that the share holders won't have to take a bad hair cut).

In fact, for 1/3 of the black population between the ages of 18 and 29, we DO hire security guards to watch over them as they watch TV, and work for extremely low wages in that other institutional setting into which so many fine and worthy young black men go - PRISON.  I cannot tell if Niel Stienberg is being sarcastic or not here - I'll put the most positive construction on all that he says - and assume that he IS being sarcastic. 

There is an argument that the crux of the problem isn’t really teachers, good, bad or indifferent; it’s parents. If your parents are paying attention to you and care about your education, then you’re generally going to be fine, no matter what kind of school you go to or what caliber of teachers you find there.

Perhaps you should do a story about the 8 Barrington High School Students who committed suicide, in, if my memory serves, the school year 2010-2011.  See if THEIR parents were paying attention to them, or cared about their educations, because, I am going to state here, this most obvious of truths - NO, their parents DID NOT CARE ABOUT THEM enough to see the problems. 

But if your mom’s a drug addict and your dad’s who knows where, then you could be set down in the front row of Freshman Success A01 at New Trier and you’d still most likely screw up, and quickly, too, because you couldn’t cope with this strange new world.

Again, I suggest Mr Steinberg come to Barrington, where the kids deael smack, coke, marijuana, ecstacy, where rampant binge drinking is the norm, and has been for many, many decades.  There are plenty of kids in suburbia that have a very difficult time coping with all the trapings of "loving families," "a great educational system," "all the advantages."

The Sun-Times did a survey, years ago, of kindergarten teachers, one that made a huge impression on me. It asked teachers to evaluate how prepared Chicago 5-year-olds are when they arrive for the first day of school.

There were kids who didn’t know their colors or couldn’t count to 10. Some kids didn’t know their own names, only what street tag they went by. The best teachers in the best schools in the world couldn’t help kids like that catch up, and while those were the exceptions, you can’t give teachers an impossible task and then punish them for not doing it. Which seems to be what often happens.

This is a very perceptive point, and one not appreciated by knee-jerk reactors.

The dropout rate in Chicago is about 40 percent. Any idea, any clue what the national average dropout rate is? Brace yourself for another shocking figure that isn’t seen much:

About 30 percent. About a third, which is almost as bad as 40 percent. Something has gone very wrong in this country if we can’t get one out of three kids to finish high school.

Public high school, that is. Private schools are an entirely different matter. The National Catholic Education Association reports a dropout rate of 0.9 percent, or a 99.1 percent graduation rate. Why the difference? Is teaching so incredible at Catholic schools that their students are kept engaged and studying, then sent off to college with a fancy diploma and a pat on the head? Perhaps.

Or maybe any student whose parent cares enough and has the resources to get him or her into a private school is going to do well.

The strike is going to be resolved, maybe as early as Friday. If not, then next week, or eventually. What will not get resolved — we sure haven’t resolved it yet — is the staggering failure and human potential tragedy represented by that 40 percent dropout rate.

Why haven’t we? Because it’s hard. Because it cuts to the very core of society. Failure among Chicago public school kids is acceptable to the rest of the city and country because it’s not their kids. The dropouts don’t even look like their kids, generally.

On the national level, we have one party pretending we all begin at the same starting line, and anyone who gets ahead deserves it, while those who fall behind can be justly ignored. But that’s simply a lie. The playing field is skewed. My kids exist in an education-rich culture where students scramble over each other to strive, to succeed, to grow and learn. While a few miles away, 40 percent of students and their parents don’t even grasp that without a high school diploma, your chances are somewhere between little and none. That problem is going to exist long after the cheer goes up and the strike is over.