A Cautious Man
October 30, 2007
 
Busted Out Of Class
I see this morning that Ms. Malkin, the comfort woman for the far right, has focused her ire on *gasp*, efforts to reduce stress for high-performing high school students. In her diatribe about efforts by Paul Richards, a principal in a Massachusetts district, to promote relaxation techniques, she merrily mixes stories of high-scoring apples and academicallly-challenge oranges to add to her sweeping condemnation of public education.
Oh, criminey. Just what American high school students need: “Less homework, more yoga:”
. . .

Now, Richards is leading an entire cult of educrats more obsessed with reducing “stress” and coddling fragile minds and bodies than with challenging students to push themselves to the limit and demanding nothing less than their best: "Mr. Richards is just one principal in the vanguard of a movement to push back against an ethos of super-achievement at affluent suburban high schools amid the extreme competition over college admissions." . . .

Welcome to 21st century public education in the US, where one in 10 schools are “dropout factories”

The "dropout factory" reference concerns another article, about schools where a severely high percentage of students never graduate -
WASHINGTON - It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: "Dropout Factory," a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That dubious distinction applies to more than one in 10 high schools across America.
. . .

There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either.

While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, Balfanz says. The data tracked senior classes for three years in a row — 2004, 2005 and 2006 — to make sure local events like plant closures weren't to blame for the low retention rates.

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones — the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Utah, which has low poverty rates and fewer minorities than most states, is the only state without a dropout factory. Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentages. About half of high schools in those states classify as dropout factories.

It's ridiculous to link these two stories, as Ms. Malkin does, since the problems identified are very different. Look, it really isn’t all that hard to actually understand the situations. Some kids are not succeeding in school, and their family and economic situations are major contributors to that. On the other hand, some kids are having extraordinary success in school, and once again their family and economic situations are major contributors. The kids who are not succeeding, need help from their schools, and they don’t need right-wing screechers telling them to just work harder. And, the kids who are succeeding, will do just fine, if we back off a little, and let them be themselves. If it takes a little in-school relaxation techniques, why the heck not? It certainly isn’t something to get in a tizzy over.

As for the "stress reduction" program, if Ms. Malkin thinks that this is some sort of public school abomination, she's mistaken. A colleague at work just attended a workshop at the private college preparatory school where her child is in the first year class. The point of the program was for upperclassmen to speak with both students and their parents about academic pressures, and how to handle the college race. Ms. Malkin seems to think that these kids need to have some sort of whip hand over them, "challenging students to push themselves to the limit and demanding nothing less than their best". These kids are doing their best, and they'll be fine, if they aren't made psychotic by the kind of attitude displayed by Ms. Malkin.

As the parent of two college students, I’ve seen how the anxiety over college admissions can create enormous pressure on students. Our kids were anxious, but not because we were pressuring them, but I did see it in their friends. The fact is, there are a lot of great colleges and universities out there (even “state schools”, contrary to the views of the snobs), and these kids will do fine – it’s more important to find a place that is the right fit for them. But, the pressure to get into one of the “top” schools can be harmful, especially since the kids may be looking for the school that everyone else thinks is the “right” school, instead of looking for the school that’s right for them.

So, chill, everybody.

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