The Idealist’s Emergency: Too much school testing, too many school dropouts

Christopher B. Sanford
Christopher B. Sanford

This is my first contribution to the Opinion Page in several months. Why? I was feeling very discouraged by the lack of progress toward giving every child a fair chance toward success.

Yes, there has been progress – more programs for more pre-schoolers, greater efforts toward improving “failing” schools – and that’s all to the good. But I can’t help thinking of the thousand dropouts in Durham County each year.

Oh, I know that DPS’ official statistics show just a few hundred dropouts each year (way too many in any case!), but if you put together the numbers from other sources, it looks more like a thousand. And that is an appalling number of young people to give up on, to betray, every year.

Problem is, I’ve always been an idealist. I believe every child should have a good home, a good upbringing, to prepare for success in a good school.

In my mind, our dropout-prone kids are like those Peruvian miners a couple of years ago, trapped by a cave-in. Too often, the authorities – mine owners, government officials – say, “Of course we’d like to dig them out, but we can only do so much, so it will probably take till next year. Too bad about those trapped miners.”

But that wasn’t what happened this time. No. People around the world saw this as an emergency, and amazing resources were flown and trucked in, and amazing efforts produced a tunnel down to the miners – and they were all rescued.

Giving up on a thousand young people every year is likewise an emergency. And we can and should mobilize our forces to save them. Do you care? I’d be overjoyed at the opportunity to sit down with a few fellow citizens – with you! – to explore how we can make this ideal world a reality, how we can acknowledge the good work our leaders are doing and inspire them to do far more.

Those of you who have read my articles in the past – or seen my blog at csanfordsite.wordpress.com/ – will know that as an idealist I’ve been advocating three key points:

Though we must work with struggling students at every level, the real fix for the dropout problem will come only from working first with the families of disadvantaged toddlers, so that when they enter school they are ready.

Every education-improvement program – and especially this one – must be monitored, evaluated, documented, followed up – so that corrections and improvements can be made all along the way, to be sure it is functioning successfully, economically and efficiently.

Wise decisions and judgments can be made only on the basis of good data – not the mindless, unending overtesting that state and federal governments have imposed on the schools, but carefully chosen indicators of progress or problems, with the goal of ensuring that every child in Durham County is provided all the resources (in school and out) needed to prepare for success.

And you know, too, that I’ve been arguing that statistics show that our present system – allowing a thousand dropouts a year – is incredibly expensive, and that our community would, in the long run, save a fortune by ensuring that very child has a real chance to succeed and become a contributing member of society.

I’ll be pleased to exchange ideas with you by email or in any sort of group setting. Ask me! Chris can be emailed at sanfordchristopher1636@gmail.com

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