Dealing with high school drop-outs.
COLUMN: Frankly Speaking
Apparently, Governor Deval Patrick, a few members of the legislature, and several of the governor's educational "experts" seem to be intent on insisting that the Commonwealth emphasize a program whereby lower drop-out rates are a feature of Massachusetts. It is certainly a noble objective ... at least for public consumption.
Whether it is really one dear to their hearts may be open to question. Still, it all plays out well with the general public always seemingly vitally interested with any program that may improve overall educational policy.
Quite frankly, I question the apparent worthiness of emphasizing improvement in the high school drop-out rate. It just isn't realistic dealing with the individual interests, motivation and abilities of the young men and women in question ... those most likely to end up as drop-outs.
It isn't that my true sympathies do not rest with these potential drop-outs. They always have. For those young men and women not in this category, virtually everything in education has always been slanted for the average and above average students ... in short for those whose academic challenges come rather easy.
Generally, the most competent teachers (not always) are assigned to teach those classes composed of the most able students. It is a rarity when an obviously superior teacher will be assigned even one class composed of low-ability students. Yes, on occasion, a superb teacher may be assigned to such a group for one class. But his or her heart may not really be into teaching such a class ... thus you get mediocre results at best.
Potential drop-outs have two strikes against them from the start. Generally, they do not receive the academic emphasis usually reserved for the college track students. In addition, as a rule, their parents are not the most vociferous in clamoring for the best for their offspring. They do not place much pressure on the school administration seeking the best possible avenues for their children. As a rule, they are simply content if such students conform while causing the least difficulties.
When considering the overall drop-out rate, there are also the inner city students with which to contend. Unfortunately, more than a few students enrolled in such schools are given little opportunity from the start to be successful and eventually graduate. For those who do overcome the obstacles placed before them, they are to be congratulated. They truly have overcome.
There are additional obstacles placed before students in danger of becoming drop-outs. Recently, in its apparent wisdom, state educational "experts" have decreed more challenging math and science courses for all students. I strongly suspect this will evolve into just another avenue to encourage a few students to drop out of school.
Aside from a lack of motivation and real interest, there is a lack of basic ability to be considered in this measure. We may all be born equal, but the equality ends there. When the challenge is too great, it is easy for a sense of frustration to creep in with endless disastrous results.
The obvious answer, of course, is for more trade schools which can truly cater to the real needs of potential drop-out students. Fortunately, such trade schools have become outstanding centers of learning with skills and academics emphasized to take advantage of a young man or woman's real interests. In such an arena, the best will evolve and the student may appreciate his or her true level of learning.
Unfortunately, it is probably true that trade schools now in existence cannot accept all seeking admission - even though mainly regional in nature. One alternative would be for the comprehensive schools to initiate work/study programs for those students who may not find ready entrance into established trade schools. In this manner, sufficient basic academics could be stressed while keeping the enthusiasm of such students with a work/study program related to their true interests.
Some drop-outs may always be with us. But a realization of the interests and abilities of the non-academic students may give those students the best chances for a bright future.
Frank Lepore is a freelance columnist who was born in Clinton and lives in Sterling.