David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Are We Wasting Children?

Adapted from Nightmare II, posted on Flickr (cc) by Hammer of Dawn

I had a nightmare last night. It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, it’s usually about being insufficiently dressed, some weird misbehavior of gravity, or a spooky inescapable house in the middle of a field.

This one was different. It started on television, an intro to one of those TV News exposes. The reporter earnestly recites four names, with their school pictures lined up on the screen overlaying a sepia’d image, the aftermath of a grizzly gun battle. He continues, “..killed in a gang shootout — during school hours.”

The reporter describes evidence indicating that none of the four boys were gang members, that the killings were the consequence of simply being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. “So,” He says, “Who was responsible for these four senseless deaths?”

“Was it their schools?”

The report goes on to explain how the four youngsters, and many more like them, had fallen through the cracks of a school that was judged by the performance of its enrolled students, and that some students had become more valuable to the school, when dropped from their rosters.

It was a dream — a very bad dream. I have never encountered an educator, school, or school district that I could believe for an instant might be capable of encouraging students to drop out. But I do know, first hand, of youngsters who were so frustrated by the regimented nature of their classrooms that they dropped out, at seemingly little resistance from their schools. Though they were each diagnosed with learning disabilities (A.D.D. & A.D.H.D), these were all bright, talented, middle class kids, with college educated parents, and MUCH more to offer society than the ability to conform to a standards-based education regime.

But the catalyst of this bad dream, I think, was a conversation I had with an educator a couple of weeks ago. I do not remember if he was a principal or working on an education administration degree, but he told me about a course he was taking on data driven decision making. He said that they were leaning how to analyze student performance data in such a way as to identify those students, or demographics of students, who, with attention, could statistically improve the school’s scoring, and, consequently, the students who would be a waste of scarce resources, from the viewpoint of the school’s standing.

Essentially, he was learning how to “game the system,”

Are we gaming the system at the expense of children?  Is this really happening? Is this what public education in this country has become?

Are we wasting our children?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad



  • Marie Barger

    Wow. Great observation. I have only taught in a Catholic school setting, being underfunded has its privileges. We don’t test as often or as many as public schools. We do boast a higher success rate academically, but because of underfunding we can’t service children with disabilities. This is sad what is happening. Hopefully your post will awaken this nightmare in law makers. Uneducated people cost more money than educated, everyone deserves the chance to make a difference in the world. We have to teach everyone not just an elite few, who can make test scores look good.

  • http://sevinstechblog.blogspot.com Tracy Sevin

    I read an interesting post from an Indian educator today, http://learninginaflatworld.blogspot.com/2010/02/is-your-child-genius-or-just-plain.html
    Interesting the perspective from an outsider.

  • http://www.vtfrontier.blogspot.com Michael

    Wow this class sounds shameful. I understand identifying patterns to find weakness but the effort should always be to actually improve the system NOT the stats!

  • Kelle Campbell

    I think one of the problems is that being results-driven sounds good and promises efficacy but very often encourages cheating or “gaming the system.” I think that education would be better served by identifying the processes (and combination of processes) that will produce the desired results and then becoming process-driven. Of course, that will also require figuring out what factors in a school/district require the addition, modification or elimination of particular process.

    The recent emphasis on class walkthroughs is an excellent start to implementing the process-driven mindset/model, and I’m hoping the practice gains momentum.

    • http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=2966 Alissa

      @Kelle Campbell,

      I agree with you. The district that I work in calls these walkthroughs FOSL walks (Focus on Student Learning). The implementation of such observations has helped all teachers who work in my elementary school setting. FOSL walks are conducted by both administrators as well as by colleagues. The benefit is that we can share our observations with one another in order to discuss how our teaching methods can be improved. This is one aspect of professional development that should remain constant at all grade levels. The limited feedback that teachers have received in the past has hindered the ability for teachers to identify areas in which they need to improve instruction of standards based instruction.

  • aln1000

    Unfortunately the public schools are being forced into data driven decision making because of of so much (and the threat of much more) being determined by test scores. It’s a difficult time to be in public education.

    • http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=2966 Alissa


      I agree. Public education is so data-driven now that many teachers are beginning to question if this profession is the right one for them. The energy and positivity that drives great instruction is being masked by state mandated assessments and fast changing district policies. I understand that all children need to show progress throughout an academic year, but all factors should be considered. How can poverty stricken students be expected to perform as well as those who have highly educated parents who live in wealthy neighborhoods?

  • http://tndreview.blogspot.com Scott Mooney

    My old self would have been outraged at this. My old self was a teacher/technologist who set out to save the world, one child at a time. I still believe in that, wholeheartedly, and shed a tear for each student who falls through the widening cracks.

    My new self wonders why this is surprising. Through terrible decisions at the District level they lost me, and many other highly qualified teachers, to other professions so now I come to the conversation with a much more developed business sense. It’s not a mistake to admit schools have finite resources (time, money, and staff). Administrators must make decisions on how to spend those resources to the benefit of the majority. If one student, who makes every effort to not want to succeed, takes up 25% of an admin’s time why wouldn’t the school want to take back that resource to spend on the other students being neglected?

    It’s a horrible situation. I would wish it never to happen again, but that’s not realistic. Our society has created an unrealistic expectation that every child will receive the same education regardless of situation, interest, or ability. Perhaps it’s that expectation we need to look at and not the unfortunate truth that our administrators need to spend time thinking about how to game the system. Revise our expectation, revise our model of educating the students who don’t fit the model, and that class would no longer need to exist.

  • Justin M 2014

    Dear David Warlick,
    I agree with your article “Are We Wasting Children” because schools can’t kill off their own students.I do believe that this nightmare of yours is not just a frightening and scary thing that may be happening in schools. I believe it is going to foreshadow that schools are going to soon be throwing out children that are not able to keep up with the standards that the schools have. Right now few students have dropped out that I know of but if teachers do not encourage their students and help them like in a bad dream then the schools will be losing students very quickly. The schools will be killing off an already dying breed the student. So I believe that the schools need to encourage students to work hard and help them when they really need it. Even if the student is not as intelligent as his or her peers they should not be murdered for a small defect, because everyone deserves a chance. Along with that point if a student is thinking about dropping out then the school should have a serious discussion with the student to discuss the options and see how this will affect his or life. A horrifying nightmare you encountered and it hopefully has showed how to prevent the murdering of more students.

  • http://spicher.weebly.com/ Doug Spicher

    This article brings specific things to light. First, based on “data driven decision making”, is it any wonder that teachers are less willing to take academic risks with kids like integrating technology? We are creating a group of kids that can take tests, but cannot think for themselves. They can parrot back facts and figures but fail when it comes to critical thinking, problem solving and integrating new information into existing schema. Is that we really really want kids to be?

    • felicia turner

      @Doug Spicher,your reference to students with parrot back facts and figures, but no real critical thinking or problem solving skills is definitely on point. I recall being taught a lot of memorization facts, but seldom remembered the much needed skills beyond that class or grade level. We have to look at the bigger picture when we are just a data driven school. Our students deserve real compassion and true interest in their outcome. We must facilitate their learning in a way that relates to prior knowledge and across all curriculums in order that they make the connection, and we must ensure that our future leaders,caregivers, teachers, etc. are equipped with the skills that enable them to truly integrate the new information into existing schema.

  • http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com Vicki Davis

    I have two students that I know of that go to a local public school who are illegal immigrants. I have sworn that I wouldn’t do an expose b/c of their status. However, I talked to them helping a local business person on a project one day during school. I asked them why they weren’t in school when I saw them that day. This is what I was told:

    “No, today is test day, we go sign our name and leave and we don’t have to take the test.”

    Now, I know that horrible statement smacks of test fraud and certainly that is an issue. But more than that it demonstrates EXACTLY what you’re saying.

    I also have taught a student who was a great test taker but when asked to do a science experiment would totally freeze up b/c everything wasn’t on paper.

    The test isn’t everything and in fact any time we over-depend on one method of assessment – stories like this come to light.

  • Desiree

    This “gaming” is definetly occurring in the New Mexico high school I teach at. Our administration, with the help of counseling staff, uses reports to identify our “bubble” students. These are the students that were just below proficient on their middle-school SBA (standards based assessment). These students are then purposely scheduled into literacy strategies and math strategies elective courses to help boost their scores by their Junior year, when they will again take the SBA that counts for our school performance and AYP… The kids who aren’t proficient or “bubble” are just left to survive. More likely than not, they will drop out without any resistance or fail and no have no means or help to recover.

  • http://dmlcentral.net Marc Bacarro

    I think this is more of a wakeup call as to how we have approached teaching and learning. If I may, I want to offer the perspective of a student who recently graduated high school and entered college. There was a big difference in the transition between high school and college that kind of startled me. During high school, a lot of it was project based learning, so as long as we did our best to work towards a good outcome and understood what we were doing, grades were not much of an issue. This might not be the story for most high schools, and they follow the more traditional system. The numbers game. Basically kids are taught “tips and tricks” to ace tests in their classes without caring much for the material. And what startled me is the same exact response exists within a college lecture hall. “Professor, how much is the final worth?” This is one of the first questions that comes out of my peers’ mouths. We seem so preoccupied with numbers that learning becomes a second priority. People give up because their “numbers” aren’t that great, and they try to cut corners just to get higher numbers for grades, and so when they progress, their foundation of learning isn’t strong enough to carry them through the more difficult courses.

    So yes, I definitely believe that children are being wasted unless we do something about it. I understand testing knowledge by examination, but a system based solely on numbers doesn’t seem to be the answer in my opinion.

    I’m a student assistant at the Digital Media and Learning here at University of California, Irvine (dmlcentral.net for more info), so topics like these have been on my mind as of late.

  • gabe

    Dear David Warlick,
    agree with your article “Are We Wasting Children” because schools can’t kill off their own students. I think this dream, or nightmare of yours is just the beginning of schools kicking children out because they cannot support themselves in the school, academically. For example, I am an out of district student attending another high school. If your nightmare comes true, then I might get kicked out of my current high school, and they replace me with a better in-district student. In return, this also puts a lot more pressure on me to do better in school and constantly a burden on my shoulders. I think that my current high schools teachers and advisors do all they can to help us achieve. I think at my current high school we aren’t wasting children because we are given all the tools to succeed and they make it a great environment to be in.

  • Heidi Harrigan

    I emailed this to a teacher friend of mine thinking surely this craziness couldn’t possibly be happening here in Canton, OH. She responded that she had just come out of a meeting where this very scenario was taking place. Is this how low we have fallen? Children and their future as commodities? It’s not a bad dream anymore – it’s reality.

  • http://evanskellyedm310.blogspot.com/ Kelly Evans

    Mr. Warlick,

    My name is Kelly Evans. I am a student at,The University of South Alabama. This week I was assigned to your blog by my professor, Dr. Strange. It was a real treat for me to read your blog post! I found it interesting and mortifying. You can go to my personal class blog and read what I had to say about your post. I would give you a summary here but, I was long winded as this subject really grabbed my attention. You can also visit the EDM 310 class blog HERE to find out more about this course. I’ll be looking forward to your next post.

    Kelly Evans

  • http://blogger Brenden T 2014

    Dear David Warlick,

    I agree with your articl “Are We Wasting Childern?”, because I dont think this is just a nightmare, I think it is reality in some schools across the U.S., I think that your right that students just get too frustrated and then drop out. But thats only in some schools, but most schools have a great staff that helps their students get through the rough acdemics at school and keep them from dropping out.

  • Jesse Thein

    Dear David Warlick,

    I agree with your article “Are We Wasting Children?”, because I think it is a common thing across the U.s. I agree of what you said of how students get too over whelmed with school then drop out or fail. Also, in many schools if students get to frustrated we have a lot of administration, councilors and tutors to help students get back on track and not over whelmed with school. Next, at my current school I don’t think that we’re wasting children because we have all of the tools for us to succeed and the teachers do their best to help every student.

  • http://none Davis Westfield

    Dear David Warlick,

    I agree with your article “Are We Wasting Children?”, Because i think that this a common thing happening in schools around the U.S. Kids get to stressed out and end up quitting and dropping out or failing. At my school, I think that the staff tries there very best to keep kids on track so they dont end up dropping out. However, this may not be the case in other schools across the U.S, and kids are dropping out commonly because of there stress. I dont think my school is waisting our children, but i do think that other schools could be waisting children.

  • Eli S 2014

    Dear Mr. Warlick,

    I agree with your article “Are we wasting Children?”, because I believe that some educators and maybe even administrators might encourage less fortunate students to drop out. Your article really opened my eyes to the seriousness of the number of dropouts in high school. If this many teenagers are dropping out how many college students will dropout too? What is the limit and when will we as a society stand up for a fair education without being put down by the teachers and staff? I hope that teachers and staff will realize that hurting the students hurts them because less students leads to the need for less teachers forcing the schools to lay off more highly qualified instructors.

  • http://Paulch2014.bloggspot.com Paulc2014

    Dear Mr. Warlick,
    I agree with your article “Are we Wasting children” because schools shouldn’t be allowed to let their students drop out of their education because the public schools don’t pressure and encourage their students to stay in school and continue their education. I think that you are not the only one that has had a dream that shows a lack of care by the public school system. I also think that there are clear signs around us that are results of the public school systems lack of effort like high homeless and poverty rates. I think that education is the most important thing we can do to create a better America and the results of schools not caring results in young people not living prosperous and successful lives.

  • Jordan A.

    Dear David Warlick,
    I personally disagree with your article “Are We Wasting Children”. I believe it is both wrong and Immoral to make kids who don’t have the desire to learn continue something they don’t want to do. If a student wants to drop out, let them. Nobody can make them drop out, they chose to off their own free will. I don’t think it is a good choice to drop out but if it’s what they want, they will see how hard it is to get a job without an education on their own.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick


      I have two reactions to your comment. One is that allowing students to drop out was easy when I was in school (1950s & ’60s). There were jobs available for them in the mills or factories. However, just about every job today requires increasingly sophisticated literacy skills — not to mention the demands of democratic participation and self-fulfillment. So I believe that we do need to find creative ways to stop the dropouts and keep these kids in school.

      Now, here’s were I agree with you. Does every child need to know algebra, how to balance a chemical equation, recite the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, and list the protagonists of the major plays of William Shakespeare? I don’t think so. They need the exposure, but…

      We need to restructure education by re-examining exactly what it means to be educated — and I was suggest that it has more to do with being a passionately curious and resourceful learner, able to adapt, prosper and find fulfillment in a time of rapid change and seemingly endless opportunity.

      I think that a school that becomes an incubator for passionate learning won’t have a problem with dropouts.

  • http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/?p=2966 Alissa

    That is a great question to consider. As an elementary school teacher, I often wonder if we as a country are doing what’s best for our children. Last year, my school identified our “bubble kids”, as they were classified. These students were those in our classrooms who performed “average” on our state assessments. We were informed that this group of students needed extra instruction daily in order to ensure that they passed the next round of assessments. Our tutoring programs were only intended for these students. How could I tell a failing student’s parents that he or she could not receive tutoring services because they would not help us meet our AYP goals? Something is wrong with our system.

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