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Student Truants, Dropouts, and Alienation
By David W. Kirkpatrick (November 20, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         Presently there's a flurry of periodic attention to high rates of student truancy, dropout, and alienation.  Daily truancy rates of 30% or more and dropout rates exceeding 50% for entire school districts are all too common.
 
         This recurring recognition of an ongoing problem is accompanied by suggestions for truancy and dropout prevention programs and efforts to get dropouts to return to school.  Despite limited successes the constancy of the problem is indicative of the overall failure of such programs.
 
         This is to be expected as long as proposed remedies consist of that which has caused the problem and/or failed to correct it.
 
         Part of the difficulty in remedying the situation is that those with the power to do something are, by definition, individuals who have had education success.  Thus they see the problem, and answer, to rest more with placing  responsibility upon students changing their behavior rather than upon the schools doing so. This despite the fact that the evidence of inadequate schooling is abundant and longstanding.  Consider:
 
         1975: "In a national survey of male high school seniors, only 6 percent rated their courses as ‘very exciting and stimulating.' Only a third felt they were learning useful things' that would help them later in life.  More than half said ‘the school doesn't offer the courses I want to take.'" p. 5, Compact, June 1975
 
         1988: Only 44% of 4-12th graders look forward to school; 33% don't care; & 23% don't like it.  They like school less as they progress.  Only 52% of elementary students, 40% in junior high school, and 39% of high school students express favorable views of school.  "The American Teacher 1988," The Metropolitan Life survey conducted by Louis Harris and Associates for Metropolitan Life, New York, New York.
 
         1990: After visiting 25 school districts in 21 states, surveyors said "it was rare for students to tell us that they were enthusiastic about schoolwork.  When we asked secondary students how they felt about school, again and again we heard, ‘bor-ing.'  Students considered many of their teachers to be uninterested in them as individuals, lacking a sense of humor and teaching subjects like robots, without involvement or enthusiasm...We found no school in which the student council was a player in any aspect of school life, except social events...in most cases student councils lacked real influence while still creating the illusion of representative democracy." p. 125, Patricia & Richard Schmuck, "Democratic Participation in Small-Town Schools, Educational Researcher, November 1990.
 
         1995: "Minnesota students gave their schools poor grades in a recent survey.  "The study...surveyed 200 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades from across the state.
         "Eighty percent of the students said half of what they do in school does not enhance their education.  They also said boredom often gets in the way of learning." p. 4, "News Roundup," Education Week, October 4, 1995.
 
         1997: "In Why Our Kids Don't Study," John D. Owen notes that American students put less time and effort into school work than students from any other industrialized country. ..most high schools, which now warehouse ‘an extraordinarily high percentage; of students who are alienated and disengaged... Across the country, whether surrounded by suburban affluence or urban poverty, students' commitment to school is at an all-time low." p. 47, Paul A. Trout, "Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards" Academic Questions, Spring 1997.
 
         2000: "Seventy-eight percent of kids in high school say they are not involved, school means nothing to them." Deb Kiner, "Obsolete tactics hinder learning, writers claim,' p. East-12, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa. Sept. 12, 2000
 
         2001: "A survey conducted a decade or so ago asked them what they like most about school.  The most common response was ‘nothing' Ronald A. Wolk, "Bored of Ed," p. 3, Teacher Magazine, November/December 2001
 
         In brief, as has been said before, if we keep doing what we've done, we'll continue to get what we've got.
 
         In one survey students were asked what they liked about school.  The two areas with positive responses were their friends and extracurricular activities.  These are the two areas where students most exercise personal choice.
 
         There may be a lesson here.  Or is that too much to ask?

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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