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?


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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.