An Education article from the Blackstone Daily
September-October 2004 Print Publication
Are We Educating All of Our Children? by
Apparently not, according to some local parents and a national
expert who has researched and statistically analyzed a troubling trend cropping
up around us. In recent months, Northeastern University's labor expert Paul
Harrington has candidly spoken in Woonsocket and Upton about the growing plight
of some of our youth, especially males, who are disengaging from the public
educational system at record numbers. The white female seems stable and is
soaring ahead often past high school to receive 156 bachelor or 135 associates
degrees to every 100 of our white males.
However, Massachusetts overall has seriously diminished its
vast lead as the nation's most highly educated workforce as other States
make huge gains while we remain stagnant, face brain drain emigration and
lose research and development investment. This is at a time when higher
skills are demanded in the workforce, work security is very low and immigrants,
in record numbers are commanding either high end employment as engineers,
managers or lower wage jobs - jobs that often teens would have performed.
Though it is clear that Hispanic and black youths still need
to increase their educational involvement and attain higher degrees, their
numbers continue to rise, albeit too slowly and at a lower rate than their white
counterparts (17% vs. 29% United for a Fair Economy report. This article also
does not speak to the declining funding at both public and private elite
colleges that jeopardizes our students in poverty.) But the dramatic decline of
the "white male" in the student body, both within the Blackstone
Valley and in New England should be sending alarm bells to all of us,
whether we have children or not!
Society is interdependent as baby boomers’ retirement
funding will already be challenged by a dwindling birth rate in
Massachusetts and Rhode Island, 58.1 and 59.2 per thousand respectively compared
to the national average of 67.5.
Even more critical is the life and productivity of each young
male, with increasing numbers drifting, disconnecting - sometimes with
Playstation numbing any focus on productive citizenship. Professor
Harrington’s extensive research found that the white rural, suburban and often
affluent male is a growing part of this "idle youth" tag for 17-24
Some of these young adults are the most talented
in their abilities, yet do not necessarily conform to a MCAS test based system
or a one size fits all standard. Though many of our youth are having
success, a very visible pattern has been witnessed in some of our most
charming and even affluent communities. But has it really been noticed at all or
have School Committees looked the other way while grappling with funding
The plight of our educators, caught in a standards based
system but not always engaging the broad spectrum of learners, must be a
difficult and frustrating path. The pressure on school systems to "get
those numbers up" trickles down to students, often unnoticed as no big
deal. If disengaged students drop out, do the scores look better? Let’s hope
that is not the goal.
Yet, are we putting our youth on a treadmill that's a
one size fits all pact? For some, it seems we are. This is not to blame the
system, to minimize responsibility from those stuck with their fingers to
XBox or to deny the harsh reality of some students struggling with a
chaotic homelife. But the clear pattern of statistics in the Spring 2004
New England Board of Higher Education quarterly, Connections, reflects our
communities where a growing number of our youngsters are quietly slipping
through the cracks and falling behind. There is a serious erosion of educational
attainment, especially for males, in a global economy requiring more skills and
Some of the "disengagement" starts early for our
youngsters. Huge growth impacts in the Valley, arguing towns frustrated
with rising tax rates and lost landscapes, longtime teachers retiring and
sometimes revolving principals or Superintendents are merely the visible
symptoms of some turmoil altering the previously stable suburban/rural or even
urban school systems throughout the Valley. Threats of litigation possibly
limiting discipline, and the focus on tests rather than the time-consuming
connections to each child gives weight to the complexity of solutions for
Significance placed on building self-esteem and parity
or using collective discipline stifling early leadership opportunities, or
ignoring behavior and academic accountability is coupled with the hard reality
that 40% of the U.S. student body is emotionally dependent on drugs such as
Ritalin, Prozac or Dexedrin - a staggering statistic we all should be
questioning! (NEBHE Summer 2004 Connections)
Statistics show that high school dropouts earn less than half the
income of college graduates and are three times more likely to be
unemployed. This affects all of us, though there are many less voters concerned
with children’s issues as the birth rate slides.
Brown University’s Assistant Professor John Tyler’s
research reinforces the worsening economic disadvantage of high school
dropouts, though he asserts that the dropouts with early higher test scores do
tend to gain a better payoff than those dropouts without the basic skills.
Changing times, hectic lives, competition for having the best
and most rather than an emphasis on principles and civic responsibility is out
there - whether through the media or in one's own daily life. But still,
the root of the decline seems grounded in lost hopes, failed engagement or
restricted parameters for alternative perceptions or learning styles.
Our country’s revolutionary birth was predicated on
independence and has excelled through innovation and hard work. Education has
positively transformed from getting acess to demanding proficiency, but we must
realize learning styles vary tremendously and we must ignite all of our
children’s love of learning.
Granted, that is a huge task and investment, but the payoff
is front end in a functional and productive society. The fiscal savings of a
healthy and able workforce is necessary to preserve America’s leadership in a
very dynamic world.
There are many reasons for this increasing
gap of attainment for our children. Certainly, it includes learning styles but
goes far beyond to family life where both parents, if even intact, are
maxed out more than ever before providing a livable wage.
Are we wanting too much materially? Or are we struggling in
an economy whose rich keep getting richer while the middle class and poor are
getting poorer? Who is watching our country’s 15 million children going home
to an empty house every day? Research verifies that this often leads to a higher
rate of experimentation of drugs or other risky behaviors.
Northeastern University’s Harrington stated that the Black- stone
Valley is the sole region of Massachusetts without a community college. Should
this be a concern or are Worcester and the R.I. community colleges close enough?
The struggle for funding for higher education or even K-12 in Massachusetts and
Rhode Island has faced stiff challenges and is far less than many other States
in the nation. The demands and federal mandates grow with attached funding
further straining community budgets.
The first step to “plugging a hole” and fixing a problem
is to identify it. While there are many successes in our communities and student
bodies, we must recognize those who fall through the cracks and create/find
solutions to keep them engaged. How many really graduate each year? Are we
following up with our youth or barely struggling to keep up?
There are wonderful “second chance” initiatives,
intervention resources and teachers that repeatedly “connect” with these
youths living on the edge, at least academically.
There are initiatives throughout the Blackstone Valley
which help: School to Career, Dual Enrollment (with a college), Job Corps, GED,
private, parochial and alternative schools, School Choice (offered in some
communities) and even the more affordable college option for specialty majors,
the Apple program.
We must be vigilant to assure that our youth have the
support at home while being challenged and “plugged in” at school to
foster productive and well-educated citizens for our future.
We need to question the overuse of drugs when behavior
accountability or allowing recess for sixth and even seventh graders might be a
better option. There certainly is not one solution for the complex landscape of
concerns. Yet, we must take ownership, as parents, as educators , administrators
and community members to provide resources that engage all of our kids. Then, we
must expect our children to rise to the challenge.