Perhaps our nation’s most caustic domestic battle is one that was never intended to be a war at all.
The American public education system is still struggling- with the numbers to prove it. Despite several iterations of millennial public education reform policies such as No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, and Common Core Standards, the American Promise Alliance noted that U.S. graduation rates only peak to a national average of 80 percent, with one-fifth of the Class of 2013 not graduating with their peers. Minority students (especially blacks and Latinos) enrolled in low performing urban public school systems are notably the most vulnerable population. This occurrence stems from a school’s performance rate, as many students fail to graduate. These institutions are often referred to as “dropout factories,” a public school with weak promoting power that typically serves low-income minority students in urban areas.
The push for twenty-first century education reform has completely radicalized since 1983, when the National Commission on Excellence in Education recognized the United States’ public education system’s quality as critically high-risk. Several diverse reform measures have been attempted since then, and while the implementations do carry well-versed intentions, the administration of these policies has only produced and continues to produce mediocre results, at best. As the United States’ international counterparts only propel their math and literacy scores, American public schools struggle to keep borderline inadequate curricula and teaching methods afloat. Perhaps the most alarming statistic is, despite the great amounts of expenditures put into educational spending, these failing systems are disadvantageous to minority students from low socio-economic circumstances, and serve to trigger the dropout factory phenomenon.
While copious amounts of studies and research report that recent dropout rates nationwide are not as caustic as they once were (the LA Times reported just last month that graduation rates were at an all-time high), many turn a blind eye to the underlying root issues that plague these students, both inside and outside the classroom. Trying to alleviate conflict solely with policy change after policy change clearly has not fostered solutions towards conflict de-escalation and the facilitation of a just and rewarding educational environment. Schools (and the individuals who lead within the academic community) play a vital and integral role in the fostering of student’s minds. They should be striving to create a safe and intellectually stimulating haven from personal injustices outside the classroom.
So, how can the United States eradicate the “dropout factory” phenomenon from occurring in urban, low-performing public schools? The answer is clear: it’s time to look towards uncovering the root causes of a conflict that prevents attendance stability within “dropout factories.”
First, a school’s overall attitude towards intervening in the education of at-risk students needs to shift towards a more macro-centric viewpoint. Teachers must stop painting students with poor attendance records as “losers.” Rather, school administration must recognize that factors outside the classroom play a critical and (sometimes) intangible role on an at-risk student’s performance. Contrary to popular belief, students who are at risk of dropping out often function on the same intellectual levels as their peers. Students will often skip a particular class for a myriad of reasons. Some may find the curriculum easy and not intellectually stimulating. Others may have a particular personal conflict with a teacher or individual in the class. And another percentage may be dealing with outside circumstances outside the classroom (i.e. homelessness, psychological illness, familial problems, substance abuse, etc.).
Additionally, administrators must also acknowledge that even in positions of power, some circumstances may still prevent an intervention attempt from success, even when the student’s personal educational ambitions are high. Much of this stems from disagreement in identity. For example, an intervening administrator may try to persuade an at-risk student that school is their job because they identify that individual as a “student.” Conflict arises when students do not merely see themselves as that identity. They may be a student, but they can also ascribe themselves with several other identities outside the classroom. These individuals become agitated and frustrated with administration only identify them as students, because their identity is much more that that. When an intervention is heavily founded on the concept of sole identity as a high school student, many at-risk students, trying to cope with extraordinary and extreme circumstances outside of school, will only become further disengaged from making greater attendance efforts, resulting in the decision to leave school entirely.
Solutions are not possible solely in the actions and attitudes of the teacher, as students learn outside the classroom. By establishing an overarching environment which places great emphasis on education, students will be able to make positive synaptic connections with school and view it not as a center of injustice; rather, it can be interpreted as a haven from injustice outside the school building.
While the American public school system has a long way to come, school administrations nationwide are still maintaining a positive outlook. Their decision to keep looking forward to future progress is imperative, no matter how unjust a structure can deny mobility or the meeting of needs. An innate willingness toward resolution is perhaps the most crucial step.
“Dropout Crisis Facts.” America’s Progress Alliance, 2014. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://americaspromise.org>.
Ceasar, Stephen. “California’s High School Graduation Rate Passes 80% for First Time.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-grads-dropouts-20140429-story.html>.
Fallis, R. Kirk and Opotow, Susan, “Are Students Failing School Or Are Schools Failing Students? Class Cutting in High School”, Journal of Social Issues, 59: 1 (2003).
Flinn, Chester E., Manno, Bruno, and Vanourek, Gregg. “Radicalization of School Reform.” Society 38.4 (May/June 2001): 1.
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