Written by Bruce Deitrick Price
We hear lots of talk-talk-talk about kids dropping out of school. But does anyone really care? Enough to fix the problem??
There is no cause for optimism.
If you want children to become educated, they need two skills right off the bat: reading and arithmetic.
American public schools teach these skills with an extraordinary lack of success. The essence of the problem seems to be that our Education Establishment actually prefers flawed methods.
Here’s a parent commenting on Everyday Math, the country’s most widely used math curriculum: “My son was actually crying at the table because he couldn't figure out how to do his division. He worked on the problem for over a half an hour, and could not get the answer....I taught him how to divide the way that we were all taught in school. He had every problem on the page done in less than five minutes....Every parent that I talked to hates this 'Everyday Math' and wishes it was gone."
Simultaneously, our schools continue to use Whole Word, despite the vast damage it causes. Don Potter, phonics expert, explains: “The situation across the nation is dramatically worse that anyone can possibly imagine. When I ask the teachers why they teach sight-words, they inevitably tell me because their students are going to be assessed on them. They consider sight-words part of a good reading program that includes some phonics, not realizing that sight-words create a reflex that interferes with phonics instruction. Sight-words are an obstacle to reading, not an aid.”
So the schools use the worst methods, and then everybody stands around wondering why we have terrible stats, and dropout rates that are unacceptably high. Duh, as the kids would say.
Lumping together all the states, and all the different ethnic groups, almost 30% of public school students are dropping out. If you want to consider only African-American kids, that would be 40%.
Now, class, here’s a question for today: if more than one-quarter of your kids are dropping out of your schools, how can you keep pretending these schools are serious about education?
Conversely, why isn’t everybody reaching quite a different conclusion? Namely, that the people in charge of the schools are intractably incompetent and/or subversive.
The schools seem to be deliberately engineered to produce failure. This phenomenon is usually referred to as dumbing-down. It’s not a joke; it’s a reality confirmed by all available statistics.
Ideally children would attend school until they reached their limit. But that’s not what is happening here.
Children are leaving because they are defeated and driven out of school. Most are functional illiterates. They have derived few benefits from a decade of schooling. With their rudimentary skills, they can make no further gains. They drop out because they are at a dead-end.
But none of this is a surprise. Virtually all the children dropping out of the 10th or 11th grade were unable to read by fourth grade. School officials knew this. Typically, the kids were elaborately tested, screened, and given expensive remedial help along the way. But somehow they hardly advance at all.
Oddly enough, nobody takes the step of saying, wait a minute, why don’t we go back to the first grade and use proven approaches so all the kids learn to read by the end of the first year? For sure, 99% of them can. (That’s the typical result with systematic phonics.) Then we can save children from illiteracy, and save all that remedial money. Why isn’t common sense followed?
Keep in mind that the school system is receiving extra funds at every step for more remedial teachers and more instructional schemes. Perhaps the officials don’t want to lose that easy money. Here we are entering a very dark world indeed. Some cynics suspect that money is the point, that bad methods are retained because they create the victims that create the money.
An older, experienced teacher wrote to me that the officials in her district have realized they increase funding by keeping children defective. She explained: “They are stopping ESL teachers from teaching spoken English to immigrant students, and they don't want these kids to read in English either. That's the truth! These politicians have figured out that they can make money in education now and they are using poor and immigrant children as scapegoats.”
It is a horrible thing to think that we have such corrupt people in our school system; but this teacher is a reliable witness.
Keep in mind that Title 1 funds are available for almost every kind of problem. Nearly half the children in public schools receive such funds. There’s a perverse incentive for schools to label kids as impaired, and for parents to claim that their kids are indeed less than normal.
On an internet forum, a commenter left this amazing anecdote about one of the big names in American education: “Dr. G, the whole-word guru, trained hundreds of teachers at the University of X. I had the extraordinary experience of meeting one who got his M.A. there under G. We met over dinner at a mutual friend’s house, and after a few drinks, he boasted about the G method. After a little prodding he admitted that their technique was not meant to teach all kids to read in first grade. The purpose, he claimed, was to weed out those children who could not learn under the whole word method so they could be routed to the Title I classes in remedial reading. Why? Apparently this was some kind of half-baked plan to increase the army of remedial reading teachers needed by each school district.”
Creepy and horrible, no doubt. But not new. Mary Johnson, in her remarkable book “Programmed Illiteracy in Our Schools,” commented 50 years ago about the Canadian situation: “The specialists showed great enthusiasm for analyzing, diagnosing and treating the reading problem -- but not for solving it. ‘Where would we remedial teachers be,’ I overheard one gentleman say, ‘if it weren’t for all of these poor readers?’”
Isn’t that extraordinary? Illiterate kids are like a cash crop to be harvested. Who would be so foolish as to destroy that crop?
Point is, a dropout is somebody that has been exploited for every available dollar from first grade onward and finally spit out into the world with hardly any employable skills. If the Education Establishment cared, they could turn this around.
Take a look at the machinations of the Education Establishment in your area. Are they trying to roll Everyday Math forward into Common Core Curriculum? Are they still embracing reading programs that teach sight-words? Sorry. These people are not serious about cutting down the number of dropouts.
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005; his site explains theories and methods.