The 60-40 Split (II)

Speaking of Richard Whitmire, he has an article today in the Chronicle of Higher Education (link here, but he said it will turn into a paid page eventually.) The article focuses on a point in the educational system where things seem to come to a clash. It isn't high school graduation or sending out your applications to college. He notes a long-known fact that the problem shows up most in 9th grade, with what is known as the "9th Grade Bulge."

This is simply the point where failing or flailing elementary-school students reach the level where they can't handle the curriculum at all any more--when it turns from learning the basics of reading writing and arithmetic and into college prep:
Nationally in 2006-7, approximately 250,000 male students (12 percent of all ninth-grade boys) and 178,000 female students (9 percent of the girls) repeated ninth grade, says West. So about 72,000 more boys than girls repeated ninth grade that year.
The 9% figure for girls is pathetic, the 12% number for boys is even worse. Whitmire also points to a recent Johns Hopkins study called "Still a Freshman," which studies the issue.

As a counter-argument, however, I would say that these kids--who can't get through grade school and junior high--probably weren't ever going to be college-bound anyway. These are the kids who don't need college prep so much as they need life skills and technical training. These are the people who need hands on apprenticeships so that they can maximize what skills they have, instead of spending 4-years in frustration, wasting their time and going nowhere--or worse, dropping out entirely. (What exactly does a 15 or 16 year old drop out do with their empty days, anyway?)

However, the 9-12% drop out rate points to a bigger failure. These are just the kids who make the leap out of the school system at an early age, even more flailing kids stay in. How big is that number? How big is the number of kids who never get a real education, but either drop out later, or walk away with a meaningless piece of paper? Is that number 25%? 45%? Higher? It's certainly much, much higher in some school systems, especially for minority males. Here's a chart of graduation rates in some districts. The survivors of the Detroit system make up only 22% of the overall 9th grade student body--assuming that a disproportionate number of the graduates are women, and you can guess that the male graduation rate is probably more around 10%--that's graduation rate, not drop-out rate. Our home town of Milwaukee graduates only 43% of its students.

All of this goes to show that the problem isn't in the high schools or even the junior highs--who only get kids for 2-3 years. The problem lies firmly in the grade schools.

My solution is to eliminate all the experiential teaching methods--which believe that students will learn what they need to know through the osmosis of hands-on activities, and believe in student-directed, not teacher-directed learning. In other words, give the students nothing to go on, don't bother to attempt to actually directly teach them anything, then hope they figure it out on their own. Yeah, like that will work!