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The Education Trust, a children's advocacy group, has conducted a study showing that, relative to their parents, children today are less likely to graduate from high school. In fact, the United States is now the only industrialized country where young people are less likely than their parents to earn a diploma.The drop out rates have been, and continue to be, staggering.
One out of four leaves before completing high school. But the nation has been slow to recognize this dropout crisis. For years, dropouts were reported solely as the number of students who quit school in 12th grade, thereby failing to capture the large numbers who left high school earlier.
Anna Habash, author of the report, said "The U.S. is stagnating while other industrialized countries are surpassing us ... And that is going to have a dramatic impact on our ability to compete."
As with so many issues, the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law is in the picture, serving, in many cases, to make things worse. The law requires high schools to meet graduation targets every year. But those targets are set by states, not by the federal government. And most states allow schools to graduate low percentages of students by saying that any progress, or even the status quo in some cases, is acceptable.
•In North Carolina, schools must improve by 0.1 percentage point each year. At that rate, it would take nearly a century to raise the graduation rate, now 72%, to the state goal of 80%.
•In Maryland, schools must improve their graduation rate by 0.01 percentage point each year. At that rate, it would take most of a millennium for the graduation rate among African-American students, now 71%, to reach the state goal of 90%.
•In Delaware and New Mexico, schools will never have to meet a state graduation goal as long as they maintain the same graduation rate. Delaware's graduation rate is 76%; New Mexico's is 67%.
Why are states setting the bar so low? It is a way of keeping the pressure off. If the bar were raised, schools would be judged as failing and suffer punitive consequences. So the "incentives" are clearly to set inadequate standards.
Now the federal government is going to raise the bar on graduation rates. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is expected to issue new rules next week that will force states to use a common tracking system and will judge schools not only on graduation rates but on the percentage of black and Hispanic students who graduate, too.
We can only hope that the critical nature of the situation will lead the government to take actions that will truly be effective.
We are all used to reading lists from schools--which cite the books that students are expected to read. But many of those same books are on other lists as well. Every years, public libraries see hundreds of requests to ban books
According to the Gannett News Service, the requests are generally from parents, public officials and activists pressing for the removal of books they deem inappropriate. That includes literary classics, human sexuality manuals and, occasionally, even the dictionary. Since 1990, more than 9,600 requests have been put forth to remove books from library shelves, summer reading lists and school classrooms. The actual number is considerably higher because most challenges are handled quietly.
Fortunately, the number of cases in which a book was removed has declined over time, according to Judith Krug, director of the association's office of intellectual freedom. Krug said libraries strive for diversity, not balance. If someone doesn't like what's on the shelf, they don't have to read it, she said. As one parent put it, "How do you expect a child to grow? I'm sorry, you can't hide the outside world from them."
For any democracy, book banning is a scary idea and it's nice to hear that things seem to be improving in this area.
Today, on its front page, the New York Times had a story about a school in Sacramento California that has, until now, not missed a testing target since the federal No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2002. The law requires every American school to bring all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014.
The school contains a wide array of students — Hispanics, blacks, Asians, whites, American Indians, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, English learners, the disabled. Over all, the number of its students passing tough statewide tests had increased by more than three percentage points annually, a solid record.
But this year, California schools were required to make what experts call a gigantic leap. They had to increase the students proficient in every group by 11 percentage points. For the first time, this school fell short. They are, by no means, alone. This year, about half the state’s 9,800 schools fell short. The failure results in probation and, unless reversed, federal sanctions within a year.They are, by no means, alone. This year, about half the state’s 9,800 schools fell short.
Across the nation, far more schools failed to meet the federal law’s testing targets than in any previous year. The problem is due in part to the fact that officials chose to require only minimal gains in the first years after the law passed and then very rapid annual gains later. One researcher likens it to the balloon payments that can sink homebuyers.
Part of the reason for the troubles was that the states gambled the law would have been softened when it came up for reauthorization in 2007. However, as with so much else in Washington, efforts to change it stalled. This year Congress made no organized attempt to reconsider the law. With the nation facing urgent challenges, including two wars and economic turmoil, it could be a year or more before the new president can work with Congress to rewrite the law.
A study by Richard Cardullo, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, which was published Sept. 26 in the journal Science, found that the proportion of students scoring at or above proficiency increased, on average, less than four percentage points annually from 2003 to 2007, far short of the 11 percentage points of annual growth required starting this year.
And California is not unique. A state-by-state analysis by The New York Times found that in the 40 states reporting on their compliance so far this year, on average, 4 in 10 schools fell short of the law’s testing targets. Ironically, states with higher standards have been punished since their children face more difficult testing. As a result, in states with easy exams, like Wisconsin and Mississippi, few schools missed the target. But in states with tough tests such as Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico, 60 to 70 percent of schools missed testing goals.
Education has barely been discussed in the current election. Nevertheless, it is a critical issue and one more enormous challenge that the current administration has ensured will have to be dealt with by the new president.
With the economic crisis swirling around us, it's helpful to take a break and simultaneously boost our language skills by turning to the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest: They are:
1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!"
And if you want to know about the "super calloused fragile mystic" read on. It is brilliant!
3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.
4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says "I've lost my electron." The other says "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes, I'm positive."
5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories . After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said," I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."
7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain ; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."
8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.
9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (Oh, man, this is so bad, it's good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.