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Don’t Stay in School

Jan. 16, 2008
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In fact, beginning in the sixth grade, more than a third of every grade level until senior year is suspended and told to stay away from school for up to three days at a time. Many are repeatedly told not to attend class.

The good news is that Milwaukee Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, after five years on the job, has finally noticed the destructive practice he has been presiding over and decided to do something about it.

Andrekopoulos says Milwaukee may have the highest suspension rates in the country. He has asked outside educational experts, the Council of the Great City Schools, to examine Milwaukee’s suspension policies and recommend ways to keep more kids in school.

The highest in the country: Hmmm, that sounds familiar. What else have we read recently about MPS leading the country? Oh, we remember now: MPS also had the lowest reading scores in the country.

Golly, do you think low reading scores might possibly have some connection to ordering thousands of kids every year not to come to school?

We don’t need outside experts to tell us why suspension rates are so high. It is based on the popular educational theory that we could have really terrific schools if it weren’t for the damn kids.

Of course, no one puts it exactly that way. What they say is that disruptive kids who do not want to learn should not be allowed to interfere with the education of the children who do want to learn.

That is absolutely true. Children who disrupt the learning of others need to be disciplined and, in incorrigible cases, removed from regular classrooms. No teacher should have his or her personal safety threatened by a student.

But it does not follow that those children should be tossed out onto the streets. Schools are legally required to educate children until age 16. Some children, perhaps even many children coming out of desperate circumstances, may need special attention. In the most extreme cases, it might even approach one-on-one supervision. But when suspensions become so commonplace that nearly half of all freshmen and more than 40% of seventh- and eighthgraders are routinely thrown onto the streets, as is true now in MPS, public schools are no longer even pretending to live up to their responsibility to educate all of our children.

Public schools are now following the pattern of many private and religious schools, also funded with tax dollars in Wisconsin, of educating only those shining children with their hands folded who sing out “Good morning, teacher,” and tossing everybody else out on their ears.

A Destructive Act

Asubstitute teacher in an inner-city high school was surprised to see a long line of young, black males winding down the hall every morning. She naively assumed they must be lined up for tickets to some athletic event. No, she was told, it was just the day’s suspensions.

Suspending children can be a terribly destructive act. These days, when every parent has to work, there’s unlikely to be any supervision at home. Schools are sending children onto the streets for whatever they can get into on their own.

Not attending school can become habitforming. What children find out there can change their lives permanently. Some of those things can even end their lives.

For many children today, schools are a safe haven from the streets. Education provides children, no matter what circumstances they were born into, a pathway to a better life.

But before a child can achieve educational success, he or she must connect with school. Art and music help do that for many. For others, it’s athletics. Many of us remember one particular teacher or coach who made that connection for us.

One thing that breaks all connections for a child is to be told to go away from school. The definition of educational success under President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law actually encourages schools to leave behind as many non-achievers as possible. A school’s test scores go up when students with educational difficulties drop out.

It should be obvious that children who disrupt classes need more educational attention, not less. That doesn’t mean they should rob other students of the classroom teacher’s time. But there have to be alternatives within a school that can provide more intensive supervision for those students who are telling us they need it. Talking with these children and listening to them would be a really good start.

Absolutely the very last thing children ever need to hear from school is “Scat.”

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com. 


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