« Incentive Pay: Pass or Fail? | Main | Educator Cheating »

A Second Look at Compulsory Education

| 38 Comments

When it comes to school, being present and receiving an education are not always simultaneous. In this Education Week Commentary, Dennis Evans argues that compulsory schooling, forcing students to attend school, actually has very little to do with education. In reality, he claims, many high schoolers are so disengaged that they are virtually just dropouts who are still in school.

Why force kids to go to school? Instead, Evans recommends we turn compulsory schooling on its head after a certain grade. Not only would these non-engaged students not be required to come to school, they would not be allowed to come to school.

What do you think? Would barring disengaged students from the classroom create a better atmosphere for those students who do want to learn? Could compulsory education do more harm than good?

38 Comments

First, as teachers, we must reflect on what it is we are doing or not doing to engage our students. At some point, however, it is clear that some students do not belong in school the way it is traditionally set up. I have seen the detrimental effect these "in-school dropouts" have had on the climate of our school. Administrators are spending more time dealing with discipline issues than being educational leaders - part of the task with which they are charged. Parents/guardians of those students who are barred would be the first to complain about the denial of a "right" to an education. What about the "rights" of those who are adversely affected by disengaged students? With rights comes responsibility - sometimes people lose sight of that. Barring disengaged students would, in my opinion, create a better atmosphere for those students who do want to learn. Maybe spending some time in the "real world" will make students understand and appreciate the need for an education. Time out of school may, in some cases, be just what some of these students need to convince them that they NEED an education.

As a second year critical needs teacher, I am still inshock and stunned at the state of our schools and the condition of "MOST" of the children in our country. Most indigenous children and their parents, have little or no respect for education, because they have found a way to survive without it, and have no respect for teachers or the teaching profession. Students and parents often don't know what RESPECT is, but often insist on mutual respect. When did all this change? No wonder our country cannot compete in the world and forget all that talk about other societies not trying to educate all their masses. Neither are we. Small female teachers are pit against huge, often violent males and are told to entertain them. Female teachers are become video "chicks" on request. Shame on our country. In case you haven't guessed, I won't remain in the teaching profession, until teaching is what we actually start doing and the administration supports it. Teachers in K-12 institutions are still impotent because it's a female dominated profession and it's STILL hard for most women to work together to improve their lives and profession.

Some excellent points. You have to wonder why a child would elect to dropout by disengaging at any age. Is it that the age/grade of hitting the wall is somehow delayed until they reach high school, and the suggestion of dropping out is a birthday away. Yes, we must have a system of compulsory reflection before legalizing the dismissal of our children. In our knowledge over basic skills curriculums, necessary skills for continued learning may not have happened for a youngster, so what has been learned is that the opportunities to feel successful and recognized are becoming fewer and fewer over time. All that remains is an avenues to kick up behaviors and test all means for escape from the likelihood of humiliation. The problem with setting forth non-compulsory attendance models is that it creates a means of exclusion with little accountability to examine for more, relinquishing us as a society from the responsibility to reflect on how to meet the needs of those who have advanced in school without acquiring skills for successful engagement. If the mandated support network is now granted a choice, what becomes easiest and most cost effective option may prevail? Will children who need direct instruction, positive feedback for their efforts, and a glimmer of hope be forgotten readily and dismissed? For the fortunate, perhaps there will be parents who have means (resources and resolve) to find that child's "right" in the private sector. Until it is assured that our society embraces a for every child a right to receive what they need for school success, there is the ever-present likelihood that what becomes eliminated in our spending priorities is what these youngsters need while favoring spending for excellence in non-academic endeavors. Certainly important outlets for many children, too. Such a terrible shame that we might choose to lose some talented children who simply learn differently to engage. Rather than offer non-compulsory attendance, perhaps a choice for an engaging school opporunity is to be required first.

I have long been convinced that compulsory education is a mistake - at least to the level we take it. Let's face it - to survive in modern society, a person needs to be able to read well enough to understand the newspaper, and to do enough math to make change and not get cheated by the guy selling you carpet. That's about it - for basic survival. Everything beyond that (including everything I teach) is bonus.

If I ran the world, I would make school AVAILABLE to any citizen, regardless of age, but the instant someone isn't getting with the program, they're out - see you later, you can re-apply next August. I am very excited by the creativity that is going into the establishment of so many different alternative methods of education - no one institution or format could EVER adequately serve every single person.

I would infinitely prefer to have the living, breathing model of an over-age student in my classroom who has figured out that they WANT more than basic knowledge - rather than being stuck with a half-dozen malcontented in-school drop-outs (love that term!) whose only goal is to disrupt what I and the "real" students are trying to accomplish.

I have run into this problem several times and found part of the difficulty due to the courts. Many of these students are involved in the court system and are ordered to attend school as part of probation. However I have had these students tell me that the court only tell them they have to be in school, they don't have to do anything while there.

If we remove the disengaged students, shouldn't we also remove any disengaged teachers?

take a look at the movement rising among teachers in the UK:

http://education.guardian.co.uk/
schools/story/0,,1751464,00.html?gusrc=rss

Hopefully, the pendulum has swung as far as it can toward testing, and now we can move it back toward the sensible center of education. Forcing kids to learn doesn't work, any more than forcing people to work would. See what California says here:


http://www.latimes.com/news/
education/la-me-voced6apr06,1,5971960.story?coll=la-news-learning

One of the issues not discussed about compulsory education is that it is assumed that children do not want to learn but must be "coerced" to. Humans are born wanting to learn about their world. Compulsory education systems take that natural instinct and thwart it (in most people to some extent) by making them think that learning can only occur in a school building with a teacher telling them what they need to know.

If schools were places where learning could occur on the students' terms instead of the teachers', administrators', or other powers that be, then children would want to be there. Learning would be thought of as something that is part of the students and natural, and not something done to them. Instead of being a child's "job" to go to school and be taught, it could be a child's passion to go to school and learn.

I taught social studies classes at the high school level for 21 years. Although there were times when I could get every student in the room interested and involved, doing so consistently proved impossible. An aversion to reading and an intractable lack of interest learning were far too common.

Disengaged "students" (they aren't really "students" in any meaningful sense of the term) are a colossal waste of tax dollars.

We are also not doing them any favor by keeping them in the classroom. Since poorly educated individuals are likely to work at jobs that pay far less than average wages, they would get a head start financially by entering the work force at a younger age.

I have long favored the repeal of complusory education laws. At the very least we should lower the age at which the option of leaving school is offered. However, I think we should also remove barriers to adults attending public schools free of charge. If a drop-out realizes later in life that they would benefit from the education opportunities our schools provide, they should be able to "drop back in."

I could go on in great detail to support these beliefs, and have done so in the book I wrote: "Edutopia: A Manifesto for the Reform of Public Education." Anyone who is interested can browse the book free of charge, and even download a full or partial copy free (for individual non-commerical, personal use) by visiting www.gwapple.com.

Someday I hope that educators, politicians and officials will get back to the understanding that "one size does not fit all." Every student needs something that they can be passionate about and not every student is interested in (or financially able to go to ) college. Employers are crying for highly trained technical workers and craftsmen. If you have had work done on your car, house, or computer lately, you know that these jobs are well paid. Also these job have many of the math and language skill that are being pushed in academic courses imbedded in them. Wouldn't it be better for these disengaged students to graduate with at least the beginning of a technical career? If the public schools cannot provide these skills that are a necessary part of our society because of financial constraints or lack of teachers, then I can see students completing a core curriculum through 9th or 10th grade and then attending a technical school or junior college.
Remember that college is almost priced out of middle income parents ability to pay and that federal aid is decreasing. I see a college education as becoming more of an option for the wealthy. I find this incomprehensible in the light of NCLB goal of preparing all students for college (think algebra).

I teach art to alternative school middle and high school delinquents. These kids do not belong in a regular classroom. They are totally disengaged due to drugs, alcohol, and multiple disfunctions. Their presence is disruptive to the teaching and learning process. They DO, however, become totally engaged in the creative process. Most of these kids can, and do learn....they do it differently. Most of them yearn for a job...not college. Training programs which would equip these kids for a well-paying job, such as an electrician, plumber, mechanic, etc., would engage their interest. English and math would be integrated, and thus they would see the need to learn to read/understand text, and how math applies to these jobs. A variety of learning paths and experience is what is needed.

I completely support the idea of making school non-compulsory. Teachers could still do everything possible to be engaging, students who actually want and hunger to learn could do so without fear of being referred to as a nerd, and students who want to use school for only socialization, selling drugs, intimidating others, and making a mockery of the gift of education, could either work, stay home, hang out or pursue their education in a way that is meaningful to them, as self study or home schooling.

Schools can not be expected to meet standards when they must teach everyone, especially those who view school as a waste and fight it every step. How many adult students return to college, or get their GED when they become motivated and see the value of education. They become wonderful students, not because the teachers got better, but because they chose to care. I'd prefer fewer well educated students graduating high school, then all students graduating with a mediocre education. Here again, the students who come from wealth are afforded the benefit of a private education, where suspension for inappropriate, or violent behavior is a right of the school. These students either succeed or they are made to leave. The expectations of the parents and the teachers are both high because they know if they don't succeed they will have to go to public school. Public schools have been made the dumping ground for disengaged students. Those students who really want to learn are outnumbered and brought down by those who don't even want to be there. School was never meant to be a prison, it always was and still should be, a privelege for those who want and appreciate the opportunity. Society DOES care about ALL students, but students as part of society need to care too, or it is an exercise in futility and a terrible waste of time, energy, and resources.

The author is probably right. I worry, however, about the increasingly disenfranchised and angry adults these uneducated children will become when they realize their woeful lack of the necessary educational skills which lead to prosperity in the modern world. Yet, I worry more about the education of the interested students which is being disrupted each day by the ones who don't want to be in school but are forced to be.

The question is, do we put these latter ones out into the street or into alternative, high-security schools or camps where they can learn something on which to base their economic and social rehabilitation. Unfortunately, I don't believe we, as a nation, have the political or moral will to do what needs to be done in this regard.

I think that teachers need to a hard long look at themselves while they are teaching. Video themselves, reflect and review what they are doing in the classrooms and why they wanted to teach students in the first place. Did someone say it was easy? I attended school over 30 years ago and I was disengaged. Teachers need to find ways to make learning relevant. I have seen student’s change they do have that ability and so do you. Please try your best to find ways to make it work in the classroom. We do not need to breed more ignorance we need to give hope and help to the many, many fellow humans we SERVE !!! It's the arrogance of ignorance that I am so tired of hearing from teachers actively in the classrooms and the pre-service ones who don't think they have to get the students attention in order for them to learn. We are in a different world so face up to the challenges or please do something else with your life, WE NEED exemplary teachers to do the job! (I have these teachers in action so I know it can be done!)

This is a very important topic that has not yet recieved enough consideration. I wrote my dissertation on a public high school that does not mandate attendance by students. Student earn credit, instead of grades for doing work and attending classes. If they do not do the work and do not attend class, then they do not get the credit. Students are well aware (because of their strongly supported relationships with teachers) that they need credits to graduate. The findings of my dissertation conclude that students attending this "non-traditional" school reported much higher levels of academic engagement in school than out-of-school and higher levels of academic engagement than students attending a similar "traditional" school.
We need to reconsider the viability of mandatory school attendance in light of the student populations that continually go under-served by the education system - especially at the high school level.

Dr. Evans makes a strong case for "available but not compulsory" schooling, but it creates another level of bureaucracy...supervising those adolescents who choose to "opt out" of schools. When we are already starving public education, overcrowding upper elementary and secondary classrooms, now we're going to finance yet another publically-supported "houses of ill-refute" program...parents already working twojobs cannot supervise their "opt-outs"...and watch the crime rate explode during school hours!
We have "emperors with no clothes" and no credibility making decisions about education and schools, pretending that all children should go to college and punishing those who aren't performing at grade level, and punishing their teachers as well. When parents send us standardized kids, our teachers will give them standardized results! Until then, No Child Left Behind will continue to really be No Child Left Untested, Unmotivated, Unloved and Punished. We have allowed our political leaders to destroy public education, and let our schools and teachers become "whipping boys and girls" while they put a virtual financial stranglehold on the public school with tax cuts, then decrying the wasteland of what was once the pride of California and many other states across our nation!

We need to return to comprehensive high schools which will serve all of our students, not just those Harvard-bound. Until then, all the band-aids in the world will never stop the hemorrhaging that is killing education in America today.

This is a response to ...Carol doctoral student/teacher educator... who seems to feel that this is a crisis for which teachers are responsible.
I am an exemplary teacher! You will not find a teacher anywhere who cares more about this profession and his students.
However, in the last 5-7 years I have witnessed a complete breakdown of respect for anything about education from parents(I use that term loosely) and their kids.
I make my science classes as interesting as humanly possible. But, I could do cartwheels and fireworks shows in my room and two thirds of these malcontented, disinterested, in-school dropouts would still never study or do homework.
One can lead a horse to water, but I've never seen anyone be able to force that horse to drink it!!

It's a no-brainer. Force kids to go to school? Requiring people to do stuff should be anathema -- except to fulfill overwhelming public interests. This used to be a free society, remember.

How can we expect kids to appreciate learning when we shove it down their throats -- like broccoli -- while insisting, "It's good for you."

Our society should respect kids enough from about 16 on to allow them to make critical choices in their lives. I agree with the correspondent who wants an eager adult or two in the high school classroom. What great role models they would be.

We should have learned long ago that the answer to ignorance is not a law forcing kids to attend school. It's helping them learn -- whenever they're ready.

And yeah, get rid of unmotivated teachers, some of whom aggressively damage fragile psyches, also. ASAP.

I found the following quote in an article on this update page (LA Times)and found it very pertinent to this discussion:

The poll of California 9th- and 10th-graders, conducted for the James Irvine Foundation, found that six in 10 students didn't particularly like school and weren't motivated to succeed. But of those disaffected students, more than 90% said they would be more motivated if their school offered classes relevant to their future careers.

The obvious answer: Schools that celebrate the NATURAL talents (Gifts from God, inherited, quirks of the brain?) of the students.

Sections/schools: 1. Liberal arts, 2. Vocational/Technical 3. Math/Science
4. Commercial All reaching their own potential.

Best Schools, Best Teachers? Raise the education and literacy level of the adults, OF COURSE!

Research the REAL, AUTHENTIC needs for the present, the future. NO MORE LIES! NO MORE ONE-UPMANSHIP!

I think this is an idea whose time is well overdue. I have given everything I possibly can to become the most highly qualified educator in my profession. My classroom is highly engaging. I teach to reach a variety of learning styles, using a variety of teaching methods with lots of visual aids and hands-on manipulatives. The problem is the students who want to learn are far outnumbered by those who have no respect for me or the educational opportunities they are given. It is time that public education is treated as a priveledge and not a right. Those students (and parents) who do not wish to respect and follow the rules of participation should not be allowed to remain and prevent the opportunity for those students and parents who do respect and value the priviledge of a free education.
As a professional educator in California most of my day is spent managing behavior from those students who have no desire to do anything towards their educational success. The students who want to learn are impossible to teach because of the time and resources stolen by those students and parents who feel education is something the teacher is soley responsible for giving them. Teachers, administrators and school districts are all being held accountable for producing results from children and parents who do not care about education and refuse to do their part. Not only will today's students not do their homework, many of them refuse to do their classwork. When parents are confronted with this their common responce is: "What are you doing about it?" or "I can't get my child to do anyhting either." There seems to be a problem in our society when children in their pre-teens and teenage years seem to be running their households.

There is absolutely no expectation for students and their parents to take any responsibility for their learning.

I can provide wonderful learning opportunites for my students but I cannot make them learn.

When I send out progress reports to 100 students' parents that their child is in danger of failing and I only receive a responce from 5 this tells me there is a pervasive lack of respect or value placed on education by our society.
In my opinion, free public education has become a free baby sitting service for parents who are too busy to raise their own children.
My suggestion would be to offer a free public education to all children who are legal citizens of our country. If they follow the rules and do their part they deserve this priviledge. If they cannot follow the rules and do their part then they should no longer be allowed to attend public schools. Their parents should be reponsible for their own children and bear the burden of paying for them to be educated in an alternative environment suited to their behaviuoral needs.
Our children deserve to be in a safe environment condusive to learning not a behavior management institution that caters to criminals.

It would be most disadvantageous to force students, failing or not, and in particular also the gifted and talented ones, to stay in school if quality education or appropriate intervention strategies by the schools are not offered! If schools cannot engage all students now, even the very brightest ones, why would forced attendance make a difference?

When I mentioned the Colorado proposal to make school compulsory until age 18, my 18 year old son (a senior with a stellar GPA who was ready to drop out in January) said "I imagine some kids may want to kill themselves!"

School is indeed hellish and torturous to some students who have special learning needs or who are teased and shunned by peers. I believe the risk is high that some students will incur enormous mental damage if they become unmotivated, unable to function and learn efficiently, or if they suffer from depression that goes unrecognized or untreated. One gifted student shared:

"I've never heard of half-time schooling, and I'm a Junior at Thompson Valley. I don't think it has really ever been an option, but I haven't ever discussed that sort of thing with any adults or counselors. I don't know of anyone who's only there half the time physically - plenty of us are there only half the time mentally!"

It would be more helpful for underachieving students to be enrolled half-time so that they will not get totally turned off to education. In that way they would have the time to pursue college classes and/or a job, something also useful for gifted and talented students in order to escape the confinement of high school.

As a motivational psychologist my response to Evans ideas are that not only does it make sense, there is a lot of research on intrinsic motivation and goal orientation that clearly supports his suggestions. Whenever someone feels coerced into a behavior, it is likely that the coercion will undermine any enjoyment (intrinsic motivation) of the activity. So, if we are interested in students enjoying history, math, economics, or literature it would be a good idea that we allow our students to have some control, not only of what they study but whether they are in school. As adolescents move into adulthood they have a strong need to take control of their lives. When they believe school is out of their control, they are likely to reject education and learning.

This article makes some very interesting points. As a principal of a junior high I have often considered allowing these students to work at a job in place of two years of education. The student would be required to bring proof of employment with at least 25 hours per week. I believe that often students decide that education is important after they have spent time working, being fired, and having to look for more work. Once they get that out of their system they are ready to study and not disrupt classes.

When I walked into the back of a 60-student MS classroom in Xinxiang, China, all were quietly studying and there was no teacher present.
"Why is there no teacher present?" I asked.
"It is a study hall," my guide replied.
"But why are they so quiet?" I pressed.
"They are studying very hard" was the reply.
I had to be blunt and ask "Why is no one misbehaving?"

Finally I had gotten through and the answer was simple: "If they do not work hard but misbehave, they know that there is someone else to take their place." China students come from a history of education as a privelege for a limited number of students. We do not have that history, and making a false shortage would not work in the U.S. ...Nor would abandoning them.

Yet, at Hong Kong International School in the mid-1970s, I do remember confering with a 14-year old advisee, his parents and the headmaster. The student was "burned out" and nothing in school seemed relevant. And this was in spite of having a staff of very enthusiastic teachers who inspired the rest of the students. As an international school, we were not bound by state attendance laws. We recommneded that he take a semester off and work in a sheltered job in the harbor. After a semester of mindless and repetitive work, he returned to school with a new view on the value of academics.

The American student of the 1800s was experience-rich and information poor. Today's students are experience-poor and information-rich. But without experience, much of this information is meaningless. Unless schools incorporate more field and life experiences from early grades up, the number of students who find little meaning in life will continue to increase. Abstract media do not substitute. Enthusiastic and engaging teachers have limited effect. We need to help all students roll up their shirtsleeves and dig into life...outside the classroom.

I agree that we need alternatives for these students -- experiential real-world learning, options for working and then opting-back in to education later, etc.

My question is this -- if so many of us realize that compulsory and one-size-fits-all education isn't working... and that NCLB just exacerbates the problem... then WHEN is the revolt going to happen to stop this insanity so that we can really transform our education system so that it offers more options that meet the needs of all children and young adults?

Reading these comments it is obvious that the overwhelming opinion of teachers, administrators and even parents is that compulsory schooling beyond basic reading, writing and math is having a negative effect on education. So why do we have a president that promotes a program called No child Left Behind? Why is Senator Kennedy asking the Education Secretary in committee hearings how colleges can be held accountable for graduating a greater percentage of students? Where are all these voices and this discussion in the national debate over education? Why are the politicians (law makers) not being asked to address this issue in their speeches and policy statements while they are running for office? I am sorry but this seems to me but one more example of useless frustrating talk and debate. For forty years I have experienced this useless frustrating talk every where and over many issues. Its lack of effect is evident in everything from the stupidity of the "war on drugs" to the inefficient way taxes are assessed and collected. It has reared its ugly head in the debate over stem cell research and the question of teaching evolution and big bang cosmology in science. It has saddled our country with the least efficient most expensive mediocre health care system in the world. All one hears is talk, talk and more talk with no results. Why? I think it is because important decisions that address these issues are being made not on scientific, rational examination of the evidence and facts but on prejudice, religious and social belief systems, the pursuit of power and self aggrandizement and the calming emotional appeal of the status quo. So I say go ahead talk away in the uselessly satisfying world of the internet blog but unless you can find a way to transform this good idea into political action and effect a change it is just more useless talk and fiddling while Rome is ablaze.

Hey CC will you lead the revolt? Do you know someone that will? Is it possible to have such a revolt as our current two party political system is constructed and operates? Do you think that the American people want such a revolt? If so, why did they re-elect Mr. Bush? Here is an exercise for you to try. Sit down and make a list of all the things you think it would be useful and beneficial to fix. Go back over the list and write next to each item an estimate of how long it has needed fixing. Go back again and write next to each item when the last attempted fix was made and if the fix worked. Finally go back one more time and note which candidate addressed each item in the last debate and what your opinion of their suggested fix was. Sorry to be such a bummer CC.

certainly dennis evans’ list of practices that make schooling worse is impressive. achievement-level tracking, homework, the standards movement (and the testing), and compulsory attendance all seem to make schools worse. he may have left out the worst of all of them, though. why wasn’t teacher grading included on the list? nothing else on the list directly affects the classroom the way grading students does. but there is already enough on that list that will be hard for most people in education to accept. i wonder if evans knows that he is in some very unusual company with this proposal. paul goodman’s anarchist proposals in “compulsory miseducation” come to mind.

i don’t disagree with evans at all. i endorse his call to end compulsory education. and i agree with most of his reasons for doing so. i was a classroom teacher for 35 years, almost all of it five miles from the mexican border in south san diego. evans is an administrator and sees the fix as an administrative one—one that few administrators would ever endorse. he should be given credit for advancing the idea at all. of course, it easier to propose a systemic change than to actually make it happen. it’s certainly an interesting idea. but the more i think about it, the less i think that evans wants an end to compulsory education. he really wants an end to the students’ constitutional right to an education. as if grading isn’t enough arbitrary authority, he wants to extend that power under the blanket slogan of “it isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.” that’s a dangerous step to take, and it seems an unnecessary one.

furthermore, i think the idea is based on a false assumption. it assumes that there is a significant difference between the disruptive students and those who are serious about their education. in 35 years i never saw that distinction. the model students—the asb’ers, those in my ap courses, the top 5%—hated school as much or more than those who were overtly disruptive.

if you get rid of those who make it obvious that something is wrong, then you are assuming that the trouble is caused by “troublemakers.” during the vietnam war i was an expert on radical groups for military intelligence at ft holabird in maryland. i had a hotline for colleges to call for advice. no college administrator ever admitted there was anything wrong at his college. the trouble was always caused by “outside agitators.” when they couldn’t find the outside agitators any more than others today could find weapons of mass destruction, they blamed a small minority. the trouble was being caused by “troublemakers.” very few ever admitted the truth, which was that the trouble was being caused by trouble within the system itself. the trouble was already there and would stay there. trouble is caused by trouble.

the disruptive students really are a pain. but we need them like they need the canaries in the mine or some endangered long-toed frogs in the marshland. they warn us of trouble we may not want to admit.

now, evans is not unaware of this problem. he knows his drastic reform won’t work until schools become good places to be. i hope he doesn’t think getting rid of a significant portion of students will make boring history classes any more engaging or make irrelevant and repetitive math courses any more interesting. but, psychologically, he may be on to something. telling teens they can’t go to school might really serve as a needed wake-up call. but where is the wake-up call for teachers?

i have some more modest proposals that might start the kind of change evans wants to see—end the a-f grading options by allowing only credit/no credit grades and end daily attendance requirements for courses.

evans wants to radically change the attendance laws for all schools. he offers most teachers’ dream—the ability to fire certain students. and what has all research told us about who would be the first to go? i taught at a school that was 93% minority. i know that most teachers just didn’t like the kinds of kids they were teaching. i really think that change should start at the classroom level. so, my proposals start in the opposite direction to make schools more student friendly. evans want to end all compulsory education, but why not just end compulsory daily class attendance the way they do in college. if daily attendance is actually necessary, then you shouldn’t have to mandate it. if there is a no-harm, no-foul rule for attendance as there is for most college courses, then high schools would loosen up considerably. maybe it’s the factory model so common in our schools that is the problem and not the kids who hate it. certainly dennis evans’ list of practices that make schooling worse is impressive. achievement-level tracking, homework, the standards movement (and the testing), and compulsory attendance all seem to make schools worse. he may have left out the worst of all of them, though. why wasn’t teacher grading included on the list? nothing else on the list directly affects the classroom the way grading students does. but there is already enough on that list that will be hard for most people in education to accept. i wonder if evans knows that he is in some very unusual company with this proposal. paul goodman’s anarchist proposals in “compulsory miseducation” come to mind.

i don’t disagree with evans at all. i endorse his call to end compulsory education. and i agree with most of his reasons for doing so. i was a classroom teacher for 35 years, almost all of it five miles from the mexican border in south san diego. evans is an administrator and sees the fix as an administrative one—one that few administrators would ever endorse. he should be given credit for advancing the idea at all. of course, it easier to propose a systemic change than to actually make it happen. it’s certainly an interesting idea. but the more i think about it, the less i think that evans wants an end to compulsory education. he really wants an end to the students’ constitutional right to an education. as if grading isn’t enough arbitrary authority, he wants to extend that power under the blanket slogan of “it isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.” that’s a dangerous step to take, and it seems an unnecessary one.

furthermore, i think the idea is based on a false assumption. it assumes that there is a significant difference between the disruptive students and those who are serious about their education. in 35 years i never saw that distinction. the model students—the asb’ers, those in my ap courses, the top 5%—hated school as much or more than those who were overtly disruptive.

if you get rid of those who make it obvious that something is wrong, then you are assuming that the trouble is caused by “troublemakers.” during the vietnam war i was an expert on radical groups for military intelligence at ft holabird in maryland. i had a hotline for colleges to call for advice. no college administrator ever admitted there was anything wrong at his college. the trouble was always caused by “outside agitators.” when they couldn’t find the outside agitators any more than others today could find weapons of mass destruction, they blamed a small minority. the trouble was being caused by “troublemakers.” very few ever admitted the truth, which was that the trouble was being caused by trouble within the system itself. the trouble was already there and would stay there. trouble is caused by trouble.

the disruptive students really are a pain. but we need them like they need the canaries in the mine or some endangered long-toed frogs in the marshland. they warn us of trouble we may not want to admit.

now, evans is not unaware of this problem. he knows his drastic reform won’t work until schools become good places to be. i hope he doesn’t think getting rid of a significant portion of students will make boring history classes any more engaging or make irrelevant and repetitive math courses any more interesting. but, psychologically, he may be on to something. telling teens they can’t go to school might really serve as a needed wake-up call. but where is the wake-up call for teachers?

i have some more modest proposals that might start the kind of change evans wants to see—end the a-f grading options by allowing only credit/no credit grades and end daily attendance requirements for courses.

evans wants to radically change the attendance laws for all schools. he offers most teachers’ dream—the ability to fire certain students. and what has all research told us about who would be the first to go? i taught at a school that was 93% minority. i know that most teachers just didn’t like the kinds of kids they were teaching. i really think that change should start at the classroom level. so, my proposals start in the opposite direction to make schools more student friendly. evans want to end all compulsory education, but why not just end compulsory daily class attendance the way they do in college. if daily attendance is actually necessary, then you shouldn’t have to mandate it. if there is a no-harm, no-foul rule for attendance as there is for most college courses, then high schools would loosen up considerably. maybe it’s the factory model so common in our schools that is the problem and not the kids who hate it.

If I could wave a magic wand and remove the 1-3 students who are utterly disengaged from each of my classes, the rest of us would have such a pleasant and rewarding experience....I have taught for 11+ years at junior colleges and am now switching to secondary ed. The only negative aspect for me is having to overcome this small minority of "black clouds" in the classroom. Are we really doing them a service by forcing them to remain? I know for a fact we are doing a disservice to the rest of the students, and that makes me angry.

So many responses have touched on so many of the big issues. Poor to no parental support, way too much lock-stepped, cookie cutter, Lake Wobegone thinking that all students can achieve at the same level. The idea that schools need to be all things to all people all the time. In a vast majority of the cases of inschool dropouts, there are many more issues than the school can deal with. These kids are victims of social or emotional issues, not educational ones. What we need to determine as a society is who is responsible for these children. As long as public education is funded by popular sentiment we as educators have to perform triage to save and nurture those who want to/can be. As long as parents aren't being held accountable, it is unfair to expect the schools to be. We must return to a system of teaching basic skills to as many students as we can, which means limiting "extras" (and I use that word with some pain).

Right on! As Doctor Glaser said over 30 years ago, there are only two places where time takes precedence over the job that needs to be done - schools and prisons. More students would engage if there were more choices relating to the practical - how to apply The Three Rs, such as prgrams leading to careers that are in sync with their aptitudes (dare I say vocational education?). Dale Parnell made a strong case for just that in his book over 20 years ago, The Neglected Majority.

There's too much emphasis on college and what really makes a winner. Math and reading are taught as an end in themselves, not a means to an end. Most people are motivated by necessity, some can learn for the sake of learning. The military does a great job of turning schools' "losers" into winners through effective testing, training, and discipline. If schools were given State aid on producing productive citizens, rather than ADA, maybe administrators, boards, and counselors would get real about helping the neglected majority. There'd probably be a drop in in-house suspension if kids were put out altogether, and when they're ready to learn, the door is open, just as this article recommends.

Telling a student to sit in the classroom longer to try to get them to learn is like telling a consumer to stand in the auto showroom longer to try to get them to purchase a car. If students or consumers want the product, they will buy it. If the don't, we need to change the product!

I've taught high school for almost twenty years, and, believe me, I'd love to see a system in place that would encourage students to be more motivated and eager to learn. However, it has almost always been my experience that a child who misbehaves in my class often does just fine in another class--and there are children who do well in my class, children that I would hate to give up on--who don't do as well in the hallways or in other classes. Who decides when the young person isn't learning?

In theory, Evans' idea sounds good. In practice, I fear that this could easily turn into a way to dismiss ELL students, students living in poverty, and students whose families have already given up on them.

I never thought I'd see the day that I would agree with an idea coming out of California on education. That day has come -- I am in total agreement with Dennis Evans' plan to reworkcompulsory education.

One question not addressed, however, is how to skirt the thorny issue of federally mandated special education students who refuse to engage?

While not wanting to denigrate this idea for a variety of reasons, it is important to recognize that any strategy resulting in having students out of school, will result in kids hitting the street, and then hitting the houses of the teachers who are in school.

Right on Mr. Evans! from another "former" high school principal.

My concerns and unanswered questions are many:
-What age is compulsory education extended to?
-Will they soon approve a younger age of compulsory education, turning some kind illiterates into the street, as well as some thugs to endanger the society?
-None of this will be accepted under NCLB, in fact there is a proposal under way to extend special ed. compulsory education to 22 years of age!
-In comment to the teacher/mother who wrote we should let the students plan the curriculum so it will be interesting, the tenets of NCLB again stands in the way. Additionally, who is running the asylum?
-Why is it that political leaders are creating standards for NCLB that are mathematically unattainable by the goal year and not an educationa committee composed of teachers, administrators, parents and politicians? I think this is called a democratic process used to decide almost anything in a school from new methods to textbook adoption.
-I do agree that subjects should be taught pragmatically, with an understandable purpose for the students.
----Geography should be started with formal personal address, nearest large city, county, etc.
----English should be taught writing letters and emails for free products,complaints, compliments for a nice program from the district, sharing thoughts with a pen pal who is culturally diverse to learn social interchange, sending holiday cards. High School kids often do not even know how to address envelopes, where to put the return address and how important it is to include as proof your letter was returned, or even what side the stamp is placed on. If this is done, writing is learned as a necessary communication skill which is interactive.
----Economics should be spent writing complaints to utilitiy companies about mistakes in billing, after handling a real gas bill. Everyone should be brought on a field trip to open a bank account to put thier money in after they get their checks instead of cashing them at a currency exchange and paying for the privelage of check cashing with a hefty fee. I have found that I have to meet parents at a bank to complete this task, and when it is done the students are pleased saying things like, "Wow! I only have $92,00 left in my account. I better deposit half of my check." They are really thinking genuine world economics!

Additionally, they should handle the budget for class parties or fundraisers with supervision. They can do the everyday math that is involved, using graph paper or putting it on a spread sheet.
----Math should be taught through games and practical application. Dice games can be used to internalize facts that must be known and real uses for application/job math must be created. I had kids do area by tiling old bathrom floors. They computed paint needed for the janitors with area surface coverage formulas.
-----Measurement in math is not known by high school kids. They do not know how to convert recipes, making them larger or understanding that if you can only find the 1/4 cup measurement,you can use it 4 times to create a cup. Entry level jobs at sewing stores, hardware stores, and cooking demand this knowledge.
-----Vocational careers classes need to write letters of application, thanks, follow-up and be kept in a folder for reference. Jobs will only be kept if we stick to policies for punctuality for class attendnance, etc. through positive and negative consequesnces. If we don't we are at fault for them not keeping their job because they did not show up.
----Health classes should be required to make an appointment at their local health clinic, keep it or cancel it properly, so they have internalized how the procedures for functioning in a social working world operate.

Until we engaga kids through methods spoken about, they will remain uninvolved and making them leave school will add to our tax buden because they will be on government subsidy! It is a pattern that can be broken and be taught to their parents through them. Involve their parents in the projects but start each school year with a large open forum meeting, offeing a meal, and explain what is expected of them as parents. Often they do not know in a culturally diverse minority community which is also economicaly disadvantaged, what their parental obligations are and how to discipline.

We must reach school learning communities early to teach these fundamental principles of life education. Teachers have to reach out to churches, synogogues, community centers, etc. to establish a forum on their terriotory so they can listen while not feeling threatened that they are being told what they MUST DO. It is their community leaders and church leaders they trust, so why not go to them to announce tutoring services available, show what a great opportunity this is, and allow them to be our voice. And for those of you worried about Church vs. State issues, this is not crossing the lines as long as The Establishment Clause is referenced, ensuring there is not entanglement between Church and State.

There is hopr with pragmatic change, not NCLB.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

  • Mary Ellen/High School Sped.Edu.: My concerns and unanswered questions are many: -What age is read more
  • Larry Norwood: Right on Mr. Evans! from another "former" high school principal. read more
  • Laurence M Lieberman: While not wanting to denigrate this idea for a variety read more
  • Christy Anne Vaughan: I never thought I'd see the day that I would read more
  • C: I've taught high school for almost twenty years, and, believe read more

Archives

Categories

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Pages