By Jane Weinkrantz
I was in elementary school and even junior high school, sometimes when kids
played games, they would yell, “Do over!” and be granted a second chance at
whatever it was they were attempting. However, do-overs were not considered the
mark of a mature competitor. As we grew, the do-over was abandoned and we
learned to live with the results of whatever our imperfect efforts had wrought.
Children of a certain age who called, “Do over!” were subject to the
derision of their peers and to being called babies. Some years later, I found
out there were do-overs for grown-ups when President Clinton was criticized for
taking too many mulligans at golf, presumably a sign of weak character and
Therefore, I was surprised to read that
school district is offering a sort of mulligan of the mind, an academic do-over
wherein students who do poorly on tests can simply take them over again. Specifically,
a student who fails a test may take the same test over again within five days.
If the second score is higher, it is the only one that counts. Another do-over
is the missed homework policy: kids who don’t complete assignments on time
must be given at least one chance to make up the work without penalty. Remember
counting to ten and then yelling, “Ready or not, here I come?” In
high schools, students can count no higher than ten when it comes to homework,
whether they are ready or not. The district has mandated a maximum of ten hours
of homework per week for high school kids.
All of these new policies
are intended to combat
Dallas’ dropout rate which, at nearly 26%, is the state’s second highest. However,
while retaining students and increasing graduation rates is a noble purpose, the
question here is: what sort of school is left for the kids who choose to stay?
If the objective is to reduce high school to an exercise in paperwork and
increase the percentage of kids receiving meaningless diplomas, this should do
the trick. If it is to prepare students to go on to higher education or to meet
expectations and deadlines in the world of employment, it will fail miserably
for having taught students that there is no value in mastering today what you
can catch up on tomorrow, that the world will be happy to wait for your
revisions and re-submittals, and that there is no pride to be gained from
working a little harder than you thought you could. This is not to mention that
if you are always doing each thing twice, it should follow that you will be able
to learn fewer things in total.
“Chief among the reasons children drop
out of school is because they are failing their course work,” Denise Collier,
the Dallas district’s chief academic officer told Jeffrey Ball of The
Wall Street Journal. “We don’t want to give them a pass, but at the same
time we don’t want to pass them over.” Yet, there is data to suggest that
passing them over is exactly what schools have been doing for some time and it
is not clear that collapsing the standards will correct this.
may have watered down the standards for nothing, not even an inflated
statistic. According to
Sciencedaily.com, researchers at
released a study earlier this year which found that the drop-out rate was not
linked to classwork, but to a number of factors related to NCLB.
The study, “Avoidable Losses: High Stakes Accountability and the
Dropout Crisis”, authored by Linda McSpadden McNeil, Eileen Coppola, Judy
Radigan and Julian Vasquez Heilig, was published in February 2008 by Education
Policy Analysis Archives. The
research, which studied the data of 271,000 students from one of Texas’ largest urban school districts over a seven year period linked drop-out
rates to conditions created by NCLB which behooved administrators to rid their
schools of certain students or groups of students. Specifically:
of low-achieving students help raise school ratings under the accountability
accountability system allows principals to hold back students who are deemed
at risk of reducing the school's scores; many students retained this way end
up dropping out.
test scores grouped by race single out the low-achieving students in these
subgroups as potential liabilities to the school ratings, increasing
incentives for school administrators to allow those students to quietly exit
accountability system's zero tolerance rules for attendance and behavior,
which put youth into the court system for minor offenses and absences,
alienate students and increase the likelihood they will drop out.
Administrators, it seems, are
the team captains, choosing up sides and selecting the strongest, fastest kids
first. When the selection dwindles to the fat, the small, and the unathletic,
their disinterest becomes evident as they roll their eyes, choose the fat kid
over the slow kid and say wearily, “We’ll take him.” After this scenario
plays itself out a few times, a fat/slow/small kid knows when he’s not wanted
and stops showing up to play, probably much the same way the
low-achieving/held-back/minority/court-involved students know their high schools
don’t really wanting them screwing up their standardized test scores. So they
stop showing up. Who can blame them? Now, without enough players to field a
captains are telling these kids, “It’s OK. Now, you only have to walk from
first to second base to score a run.” But, if you only have to walk from first
to second to score, are you still playing the same game?
district is left with a high drop-out rate and a series of policies certain to
gut any curriculum that may have once existed. The do-over American kids are
entitled to has nothing to do with a failed test or a late paper. Instead, it
has to do with the ill-advised, underfunded, education reform known as No Child
Left Behind. Will the next president be brave enough to ask for a policy do over
or will we just slowly develop an entirely new game?
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