The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

Blog Rules

Comments should be respectful and pertain to the topic posted. Comments about personnel matters should be made directly to the administrators responsible. Blog moderators reserve the right to remove any comment determined not in keeping with these guidelines.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

So what would a dropout free school look like?

The last blog post has a couple of interesting comments about dropouts and dropout programs such as our Wawasee Academy. Let's think outside the box.

So, here are a few questions.

What would a dropout free school look like? What would they do different? How would a dropout free school be organized? What would teachers do differently? What alternatives should we provide to our current alternatives?

A recent workshop I held with teachers uncovered a torrent of frustrations building over the increase in percentages of students who are more apathetic, unmotivated and unwilling to put in the work the state is now requiring.

SO...How do we connect emotionally and psychologically with students who do not see the value in what schools provide?

Here are the rules for commenting:

1. Be kind.
2. No names or accusations.
3. Describe your ideas positively as opposed to describing what we AREN'T doing.

Schools are open to new ways of doing things..but the limits on funding, staffing and current state requirements and accountability rules have mentally gridlocked us.



Anonymous said...

I agree that teachers are often frustrated with the unmotivated, apathetic student -- and as I consider if teachers have the power to change students' perspectives, I wonder if they would if they are some ideas that cost nothing and are entirely within the teachers and building administrators' control:

A dropout free school could look like a bunch of unruly students -- or it could be a place where students want to be because the instructional strategies and teaching styles would be interesting and keep up with where students are. Yes, in an ideal world that would include "smart" classrooms full of technology -- but that has a cost, even with the one-to-one computing initiative the state is offering. This could also be impacted by the teachers showing kids that they care about them, by making curriculum relevant and rigorous -- perhaps it's time to shift from the frustration level of Romeo and Juliet to other, more relevant texts -- such as West Side Story, which shares the same message but is more accessible to students who can read modern literature...and it might even be worth honoring the academic standards by incorporating instruction of technical reading and writing. When teaching slope-intercept form, teachers could make sure students understand the practical application of the concept. -- Those are just two examples that show what teachers would do differently.

The school would also be organized somewhat differently; for example, if a student did not master a concept, that student would need to remain in the course and learn the skill/concept (of course, using different teaching methods and materials than in round one), but the student would not remain in the course for an entire trimester longer -- after all, she or he should have gotten a chunk out of it the first time through. I know, mastery learning is a challenge...but so are classes full of unmotivated, apathetic students.

How would that be facilitated? I would say that using a service-learning model as the basis for instructional units would allow students to finish projects at different times than their peers and then be able to move on to the project while they await the beginning of the new course.
--Example Freshmen Year: Students take the traditional freshmen coursework and focus on a project relating to the environment -- which would include instructional components from Algebra I, Biology I, and English 9 -- perhaps more.
--Example Senior Year: The project might relate to civic responsibility, incorporating concepts from US Government and English 12 along with whatever math class the student chooses.

The school would be organized -- for the most part, as it is now because we know that most students in most classes would still be the traditional in format -- with a teacher guiding instruction for the whole group...though content and strategies would differ. Then, students who begin to fall behind would be provided support classes taught by content-area teachers whose purpose would be to help the students fill the gaps in their learning. Once that was completed, the students would move back to the traditional setting. Research tells us that students drop out because they know they cannot graduate with their peers -- this would resolve that conflict.

Perhaps using an academy concept would allow curriculum to be integrated across the content areas and focused on student interest. Though the courses would remain the same, the content could be adjusted by strand, for example a strand could focus on each of the following: careers (broken down into subgroups), civic responsibility, family, various interests of children (racing, etc.).

At the same time, a chunk of students cannot function in the factory model classroom -- regardless of the strategies used -- because of interpersonal or intrapersonal conflicts. Those students should be provided services in an alternative setting, such as the Academy, with support from content-area teachers and flexible timing.

Those are my thoughts -- I'll stop rambling and hope that someone finds some of this worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Tht really long comment could have been posted just once, I suppose.

My suggestion is shorter: Have teachers teach the kids and not leave them behind. By this, I mean that we sometimes have kids who fail a class, like math, in the first few weeks but because the teacher keeps on going, they sit frustrated and angry and not learning for the next 10 weeks before getting a new class.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that there are state standards that have to be covered. So if there is a class of 25, and 2-3 are not "getting it," are we to hold back the rest of the class while we work with those 2 or 3? Yes, I agree, leave no one behind, but some are simply not prepared to be in class. They have problems at home, relationship issues, substance dependencies, etc. To hold back the rest of the class that needs to be taught required standards when some students are unable to get on board presents many more issues that any "No Child Left Behind" supporter has experienced.

Realistically, I believe we will never achieve a dropout-free school. It could only happen if we lived in a perfect society . . . whatever that is!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to post this here so it is seen. I also think it can have to do with the dropout rates. If you don't get fed, you won't be able to concentrate. If a child feels like others care, they are more apt to be more open minded to learning. They need the support from their parents and the school. Education is important and takes a team effort, so we need better communication between the school and parents on a lot of levels. This is just one that was brought to my attention.

I would like to see the board make one change to something at school. I do not think it's right or fair to students that they cannot charge just *1* lunch. Some parents pay ahead for lunches and don't always remember that it's time to send in more money. A reminder is nice to get that your child needs more lunch money, no matter how old they may be. I did see that access to lunch money balance will be added next year. My question is, what about this year? What about the child that my child had to see/hear go without lunch yesterday because he was 50 cents short! Then to know he could get in trouble if he shares his food with this kid. It really upsets me and makes me sad. If a parent didn't feed their child, it would be called neglect, but it's ok for the school to do it?! What would it hurt to let this child charge 1 meal and get a note sent home to his parents. Then, they'd have the option to send in money or his lunch. If they failed to do so, it would then be them at fault, not the school. I just hate to think of a child being hungry. What do you think that is going to do to his concentration the rest of the day?

Anonymous said...

I do forget to send in money for my 2nd grader but she has never been denied food a note comes home from the Caft. that she owes so much and then I send in more money.
Your comment is disturbing and I am sure there had to be a misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

Just some food for thought....
In all fairness, let's be honest...apathy and lack of motivation usually doesn't begin when the child reaches high school. We offer reading remediation classes at the elementary and middle school level-- why not just a remediation class? Why can't the 2-3 children who are not "getting it" be transferred to a class where they can work closer with an instructor and then be moved back to the "regular" class once the concept is mastered? I think it would be better if we could idenify these areas of challenge and deal with them earlier
This might alleviate some of the need for the "alternative" school.

Secondly, there is no way a teacher can be expected to teach a class of 25-26 students, plus be able to deal with any emotional stress (death in the family, break-up of a marriage, etc.), and/or drug-induced behavior of 1-2 students. We have several county services that could possibly be used -- The Bowen Center has a local office in Syracuse, we have access to several great area youth pastors -- are we utilizing these now?

Just one more item, and it probably goes without saying, but some parents are just going to be dead beat parents. That is our reality.
However, for those of us who try really hard to be involved and show that we care, I think we ALL could work better together. For instance, some of your previous postings talk about spending quality time with your child -- I pose this question to you...If our children are involved in extracurricular activities, WHEN do we find that time? If you take a hard look at your school calendar and compare it to the extracurricular activities offered, you will find that almost every holiday is taken with an event. As a family, we no longer have a fall break, Christmas break, spring break, etc. Studies have shown that kid's do better when they are involved in activites outside of academics, but I feel the scheduling makes this very difficult. Yes, I understand that we can choose not to have our child participate in that particular event and take our family time. This should be our choice. However, when the child returns to the activity, then he/she is "punished" for missing the event. I have seen them "benched" for a game, I have seen grades lowered for not participating in a concert, etc. Surely, we can work together toward improvement in this area.

Drop-out free? Not likely. That would call for an ideal society and we all know that is not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, the student I was speaking of earlier is in middle school. To those of you with kids in elementary, yes, you do get reminders now, but once they are in middle and high school, forget it. They are suddenly expected to remember when their parents sent in lunch money and keep track of their balance, while concentrating on school. I know it's about responsibility, but come on, what would 1 time charging lunch with a note sent home really hurt?

Anonymous said...

Concerning a middle school student not getting lunch: I think the word is "1 time". If this student has habitually run out of money, let's take a look at the student or perhaps the parents who "forget" to send lunch money. Parents can figure out approximately how much their child spends per day. Then they can figure out approximately how many days until they need to send in more money. Now this won't account for the students buying food for other students on their own account. I see this as parents trying to blame the school AGAIN for their own irresponsibility. When in doubt, pick up your cell phone and call the school and check their balance. Communicate with your children. Most of them have cell phones too.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a drop out free school mean a paradigm shift? Wouldn't it take society and education to change drastically? I am not an educator, but I would imagine that it means not all kids need Core 40 Algebra 1. I wonder if some type of 'tracking' (dare I say this?) is necessary? Unfortunately, this could potentially discourage those who are not from educated families or who do not show 'potential' to be tracked into more blue collar occupations. Of course if someone wants to work in a blue collar occupation, there is nothing wrong with this. But, maybe a more technical focus or job related 'track' for those kids who are apathetic. There must be a connection to whatever they are learning, therefore maybe more service learning opportunities? As for my mention of a paradigm shift. Maybe society should be less accepting of children who drop out, by either changing the laws or refusing to employ those who drop out (this may happen in some occupations). And, maybe our society shouldn't be so accepting of parents who refuse to parent. I don't think we can legislate morality, but we can always bring shame back.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if students would be (somewhat) less apathetic and (somewhat) more motivated if they understand how their newly gained knowledge will benefit them in the adult world. Yes, I realize that you can't completely get rid of student apathy, but if teachers (esp. the math and science teachers) would make an effort to show how knowing how to factor a perfect square trinomial (or how to do a geometric proof or whatnot) will be beneficial in the adult world, that might be helpful.

Anonymous said...

We put so much pressure on GRADES - it hurts the top kids and the struggling kids. Kids on the top just want to be sure they are getting the A - they don't care if they are learning anything. They are just concerned with trying to figure out what the teacher wants,and then pleasing the teacher. The A means success, so that is the goal. IF they are in an advanced or AP class, and they realize they can't get the "A" they are used to, then they may just give up and not try at all. Grades also hurt the kids at the bottom. That D or F just spells failure. Even a C means you are just an average-Joe. I would love to see a school where the focus is on LEARNING, not grades. It would be great to see teachers excited about helping kids learn and enabling them to become learners. I would love to see the top kids excited about learning - not about getting the A. I would love to see the low kids so enthused about learning that they actually do learn - and then feel successful because of it. How do we evaluate?? When they know the material, they move on. Pass or fail. You either know what you need to succeed or you don't. Why keep moving kids on when they don't get it. And why keep kids back then they alreay learned it months ago. It's a nice dream, huh?
One more thought - if the kids and parents could have more input into which teachers and classes they took, they might work harder and enjoy school more. Do kids ever get to give the administration feedback on the effectiveness of the teachers? If a teacher is burned out or a poor teacher and extra encouragement and training doesn't help, then why do we allow them to keep teaching?(I know -- the union.)

Anonymous said...

I think one of the things we should try is to stress internal motivation. For example, we start this AR program in first grade. We teach kids to read so that they earn points.

Why not teach kids to read so that they enjoy reading. Have the students receive instruction at their reading level, do some small group reading instruction with higher level thinking. My third grader (Syracuse Elementary) has never read a real book along with classmates and then discussed it. I think that is horrible. (reading texts that are short passages from books not at her level do not count)

When the kids no longer need the points they stop reading. We have not ignited that flame inside them. Learning should be valued, whether you start low and progress or start high and progress it should be celebrated.

Teachers need to be excited to teach and touch young lives. It is an honor to teach kids the joy of learning. I would like to see more smiling teacher faces when I am in the building. I do not blame the teachers. The administrators don't value creativity or initiative in the teaching staff....what a shame.

Cherie Martin, WHS said...

If we seriously want to have a school corporation from which students graduate, rather than withdraw, we need to stop all social promotion. The practice of social promotion places students in class curricula for which they do not have the necessary prerequisite skills. It is almost impossible for the student to succeed no matter how hard he and the teacher try. That is frustrating to the student, his parents and the teacher. The student's frustration leads to withdrawal instead of graduation.

There is a belief that the students will be more comfortable if they are able to stay with those of the same age. There is another belief that keeping older students with younger ones will only cause discipline problems. And, there is a belief that once a student is in high school, where he needs to earn credits by passing classes, that he will take his learning responsiblity seriously and start performing. If we truly want our students to graduate, we need to forget these notions and instead hold students accountable for mastering the curricula outlined by the state for each grade level and course.

Anonymous said...

Although as a teacher I can see your reasoning, I think if you research this you will find that retention is not a best practice. There was a cause behind the student not learning the material the first time. It does not follow that doing the same thing again will make the student successful.

It may make them temporarily successful, but research shows they will fall behind again. Only when the cause of the problem is addressed will the child be successful.

Most research shows that retention is more harmful than helpful.

Cherie Martin, WHS said...

Yes, I am well aware of the research that indicates promotion to be preferable to retention. From what I have seen though, it appears that much of that research occurred before the current NCLB law, the requirement that students pass high-stakes state tests such as ISTEP in order to graduate, and the clamor from groups such as the Education Round Table that graduation diploma course requirements be increased.

While I understand that it is great for students to feel good about themselves as they are moving along through their school years, many of these students will never be able to pass the GQE or the Core 40 tests and thus will not be able to meet the increased requirements for graduation. Those of us teaching in the high schools are required to teach state-mandated high school curricula to students who have not yet mastered standards for three or four years of previous work. Common sense tells one that this is a situation which will likely lead to failure. A couple of years ago, we addressed this need by offering the Algebra I curriculum over all three trimesters, rather than the standard two terms, so that students could have more time to work on the concepts. I teach a class for students who were still not able to be successful. We cannot give mathematics credit for this class, so do it for an elective credit. In that class, we began this trimester working on sixth grade standards Math 6.2.1 "Add and subtract positive integers", Math 6.2.2 "Multiply and divide positive and negative integers" and Math 6.3.1 "Write and solve one-step linear equations ... in one variable and check solutions". We worked hard on these ideas. Students were given opportunities to correct assignments. Some of the students were still not successful. Even those who did pass that test, have a very steep road ahead to be ready to take on and pass actual high school curricula.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I feel very strongly that we need to look beyond the findings of research that was conducted at a different time and under different parameters. We need to look at what is now required for a student to be able to graduate.

Anonymous said...

It's not about "making the kids feel good" It's about best practice. I realize it causes problems to pass kids that haven't mastered the standards. I also realize that kids that keep repeating will eventually drop out.

Maybe high school teachers would prefer that so that they wouldn't have to individualize their teaching like elementary teachers already do. Weed them out before they get to you, and make everyone's life easier. I am sure Mr. Stock would find a way to classify them as something other than a dropout!

Cherie Martin, WHS said...

I evidently left a wrong impression. I would never indict teachers at other levels for the work they do. We all have to be together in this. I would only question the validity of what was believed to be best practice in situations where the stakes for students were not so high.

Actually, your suggestion is not at all what high school teachers would prefer. We do not want students to be weeded out. We do already work to individualize instruction to meet the needs of our students, but we have to do so within the dictates of the state standards. We work closely with resource teachers and ESL directors. In so doing, we are able to see many students succeed in the curriculum. Unfortunately, there are many others for whom individualization is not sufficient, because there is so much conceptual background information missing.

What high school teachers want passionately is for students to have the skills they need to graduate and to become productive members of society. The burden of meeting the standards, taking more and more high level courses, passing the GQE, and in the near future passing Core 40 tests for various subjects is making that more and more difficult for many students. Then, we are brought back to the original problem of students who do not graduate. Being in school for twelve years is no longer enough.

It may be that the American education system needs a large readjustment. It may not be realistic to expect that every graduate will have been able to manage the abstract concepts of Algebra II, for example, as will be required in a few years. We have seen the statistics Dr. Stock posted relative to the poor pass rate in Algebra I.

I have been in education long enough to remember when "tracking" was a good thing. I taught in a middle school that included five levels of math at each grade level to meet the varied needs of the students. That was a smaller-group approach similar to individualization, in which most students thrived.

In education, the pendulum swings. American education does not rate well in comparison to many other countries. Maybe we should look a little more deeply into the ways those countries put students into different programs, rather than expect that every student should be able to successfully complete a college-prep curriculum. We might better serve our clientele.

Thanks for participating in the discussion. It is interesting.