Volume 6 #6 June
In a moment of temporary insanity a couple of weeks ago, as I attended yet another high school graduation, I made the mistake of trying to figure out how many times I have heard Pomp and Circumstance in my life. I have been on the school committee here for 22 years. We have two high schools and an adult ed school, and Pomp and Circumstance is played for both processing and recessing. Multiply the 22 by six, add ten for the ceremonies of my own five kids, and you get the impressive number of 142.
Fortunately I like the tune, and I always like graduation, even going to two a day, as we do here. The excitement and the feeling of accomplishment are catchy, and they carry me all the way through to the next day, when I remember the drop-outs that weren’t there. We have a drop-out rate here of over 30%, which is about average for urban schools of this kind. To get this figure, you start with the number of ninth graders you have and subtract the number that made it to graduation. This is the true number of drop-outs. Actually, you could count almost as accurately by starting with the number of 6th graders that are in real academic trouble already. Very few will make it to graduation.
Now here’s an interesting question. How many kids who are good readers drop out of school? Practically none. It is the 15% of the population that is dyslectic that account for most of the drop-outs. And you can find most of those even earlier just by looking at the bright fourth graders who are already seriously behind in reading, writing, or spelling. The hallmark of dyslexia is a serious discrepancy between intelligence and reading level. It already shows up at the third or fourth grade level. The obvious thing to do with these kids is to teach them to read, but the previous attempts haven’t succeeded, so what do you do then?
Most school do one of two thngs: they either have extra reading classes, or they try to prop them up with something called “inclusion,” which is baby-sitting. But the extra reading classes use the same kind of phonics program that failed in the first place, and in “inclusion” they don’t even pretend to help them learn to read.
This approach is not only ineffective, it is hideously expensive. In our school system, we spend over a million dollars a year just paying the salaries of teachers and aides in SPED. That figure doesn’t include extra MCAS preparation courses, repeated grades, equipment and material, five-year high school programs, and the human cost which cannot be estimated. BUT THE ONLY THING THE KIDS NEED IS TO LEARN TO READ. So the drop-out rate remains unchanged in spite of SPED, the state Dept. of Education threatens school systems with mayhem if their state-wide test scores don’t go up, and the tax-payers groan.