Salvaging At Risk Students

As a life long educator, hearing the term “school to prison pipeline” causes me to cringe. Imagining lines of young Black males walking that pipeline only intensifies feelings of grief and loss. Imagine the difference if money spent on prisons had been allotted to changes within our public school system.

News articles frequently inform us that “the school to prison pipeline” predominantly destroys lives of Black males. When I force myself to get honest about this reality, I realize that every student who drops out of school or who ends up in prison embodies an appalling personal cost as well as a disastrous loss to society. Instead of increasing my hand wringing, I want to share a few alternative ideas, which I learned from others.

  1. “Teaching Culturally-Disadvantaged and Underprivileged Students” by Marsha Cope claims that low-income students typically get a preponderance of “drill and kill” lessons and assignments that require rote memory. Who wouldn’t be turned off? Let’s get honest about the unintended consequences of rote memory related to high stakes tests.
  2. The “Hamilton Project: Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement” by Jacob and Rockoff states that because teenagers experience different circadian rhythms, allowing them to start classes later in the morning would help middle and senior high schools. Any problems encountered would pale when compared to the challenges of teaching students who cannot wake up until mid or late morning.
  3. “Stuck in the Middle” by Jonah Rockoff and Benjamin Lockwood presents an argument for preventing academic losses by keeping students in K – 8 schools. The authors claim that test scores of students in middle schools drop more than scores of students in K – 8 schools.
  4. Susan Loughran, a theater professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas suggested teaching curriculum through drama. She recommended challenging students to write scripts, design costumes and props, and present plays. Selling tickets would require dealing with profits and losses. According to Loughran, all of the major educational skills could be addressed through dramatization.
  5. In Gibson, North Carolina, nine students on probation became engaged in a pilot program called “Growing Change”. Teenagers gave the food they grew to families in need. In the process, the young people learned about sustainable agriculture and aquaponics.
  6. A senior high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas reduced school fighting by telling students that fighters would no longer be allowed to attend school during the day and would be required to go to night classes. It turned out that night school messed with the teens’ schedules enough that they all but stopped fighting.
  7. When Vickie Baldwin was the principal at Garza High School in Austin, Texas, the school implemented a model built on individual contracts. According to each student’s needs and work schedules, the teens arrived and departed school at various times. By working on one course at a time, most of the Garza students earned diplomas.

Students come with an amazing variety of needs and learning preferences. As long as we attempt to make all students fit the same mold, we will continue to witness significant numbers of those who give up. Even within one school, a variety of alternative programs could offer options. Could acceptance of new ideas cost as much as building and maintaining prisons? If we truly want students to live healthy lives and make contributions to society, we need to expand the old model.

WORKS CITED

Cope, Marsha, Lemon, Ann. “Teaching the Culturally-Disadvantaged and Underprivileged Student.” (2015). Found at: : Cope, Marsha, Lemon, Ann. “Teaching the Culturally-Disadvantaged and Underprivileged Student.”

Jacob, Brian, Rockoff, Jonah. “Hamilton Project: Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement” The Hamilton Project. (2015). Found at: Hamilton Project: Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement” The Hamilton Project.

Lynch, Matthew. “Five Facts Everyone Needs to Know About the School-to-Prison Pileline.” Education Week. August 28, 2015. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2015/08/5_facts_everyone_needs_to_know_about_the_school-to-prison_pipeline.html

Rockoff, Jonah and Lockwood, Benjamin. “Stuck in the Middle.” Education Next. (2015). Found at: http://educationnext.org/stuck-in-the-middle/

Valdivia, Lisa. “Fruitful Partner.” Community Gardens in North Carolina – a Sustainable Community Project. (2010 – 2014). Found at: Valdivia, Lisa. “Fruitful Partner.” Community Gardens in North Carolina – a Sustainable Community Project.