Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Teachers must be doing something right, right?

If fewer high school students are dropping out of school, doesn't it mean that teachers are doing something right? Will Superintendent Mick Zais say that? Will he give any credit at all to the hardworking men and women who teach in South Carolina's public schools?

More than 800 fewer students dropped out of state high schools in 2010 than in the previous year, according to a new report from the South Carolina Department of Education.

The decrease during 2009-10 was the second consecutive year of improvement in reducing dropout numbers. Since 2007-08, the state’s total high school dropouts have decreased from 8,032 to 6,265 - a 22 percent improvement.

Zais said improved dropout rates are a critical step toward improved on-time high school graduation rates, which he views as a key measurement of success for the entire K-12 system.

"We have to make certain that kids stay focused and engaged from the first day of kindergarten through high school graduation," Zais said.

"Students must have basic reading skills by third grade to successfully complete high school. Offering parents a full menu of schools to choose for their students will enable them to find the best fit their learning styles. Technology allows schools to deliver customized learning experiences rather than one-size-fits-all instruction to every student.

"There is no silver bullet to magically improve high school graduation rates, but by focusing on the needs of students, we can and will make progress."

So, school choice and technology is to thank for the decrease in dropout rates? Teachers had nothing to do with it?

This, Superintendent Zais, is why you garner so little respect from South Carolina's rank-and-file classroom instructors. Given a gold-plated opportunity to praise the hard work of our education professionals, you toss it away and give the credit to "a full menu of schools to choose," and technology.

A little unsolicited advice: Teachers have hard jobs; those superintendents who have spent time as classroom instructors know this. And teachers -- who are, after all, people -- feel better about the work they do when they don't have to worry about being attacked from behind by a leader who disregards their contribution to the profession and to their communities, who values them so little, and who may indeed despise them. Yes, Superintendent Zais, it's just that obvious. Word gets around.

To ameliorate their anxiety, since you presently occupy the seat that South Carolina's chief public school advocates have occupied in the past, you might consider being graceful -- even grand -- and crediting our state's teachers and school district employees for the good, hard work that they do.

And if anyone asks who gave you the idea to do it, claim it was your idea; it'll make you feel good, I guarantee.

As for the decrease in high school dropout rates, mirabile dictu, South Carolina's teachers and school district employees have been pulling a heavy load and then some:

The 2010 dropout report found improvements in all demographic groups.

Included were a decrease in African-American dropouts from 3,579 in 2007-08 to 2,724 in 2009-10 and a decrease in dropouts from high-poverty families from 4,451 in 2007-08 to 3,768 in 2009-10. Hispanic dropouts decreased from 399 in 2007-08 to 322 in 2009-10.

Looking at specific grades, the best progress in reducing dropouts occurred among 9th-graders, with 2,342 9th-graders dropping out in 2007-08 compared to 1,691 9th-graders dropping out in 2009-10.

Ninth-graders made up 29 percent of total high school dropouts in 2007-08, but 27 percent last year.

Congratulations to our high school students and all those professionals who work hard to meet their needs every day.

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