Herald Journal Columns
May 29, 2006, Herald Journal

We should want what’s best for all children

By JENNI SEBORA

With high school graduation recently over for many students, or soon occurring, the subject of graduation and quality of schools is befitting.

I had the Oprah show on one day a couple of weeks ago, and was drawn to its topic and content. The title of the show was something to the effect that America’s schools are in a state of emergency. Of course, that really caught my attention. The topic was graduation and drop-out rates in America’s schools.

Now depending on the source, the statistics vary regarding graduation rates. But we do know this, Minnesota has the fifth or sixth highest graduation rate, 98 percent, close behind other midwest states.

Minnesota is on the top of the list in many public school studies including, ACT scores, math, reading, and science scores; and since we are in Minnesota, we should be happy about this. In fact, in our local area school districts, the graduation rate is in the upper 90th percentile. It is alarming that nationwide, the overall graduation rate for the class of 2001 was 68 percent – nearly one-third of all public high school students failing to graduate, according to a study conducted by the urban institute.

And of course, there is a great deal of variation in graduation rates and gaps, among student groups across the different states and regions of the country. Some states, such as Mississippi, have a graduation rate lower than 68 percent.

The point made on the Oprah show, is that this should not be happening in America, the richest country in the world. And the discrepancy between the graduation rates and the quality of education between many inner city schools, and the suburban schools, is downright maddening.

The Oprah’s show content, revealed the differences between an inner city school, and a suburban school in Illinois. The disparities were many and included everything from the physical environment and building, to the class offerings and curriculum, to graduation and drop-out rates, to level of expectations of staff and students.

The inner city school had a leaking roof, causing large puddles on the gymnasium floor that just remained there, among a myriad of other building issues that the students and staff had to teach and learn in. I don’t believe much “thriving” in the classroom was going on in this school setting.

The graduation rate was well below 50 percent – somewhere around 25 percent. Students conveyed that dropping out was almost an expectation of students. When interviewed, the dropouts revealed the sadness and situations they were in after they were in the “real” world for a while, and had to function in it on less than a mediocre quality of living.

There were also a couple of students who shared their own desires of wanting to go to college, which was not a commonality or even an expectation of students that attended the inner city school.

In fact, students from the inner city and the suburban school “swapped” schools for a few days to “walk in each others’ shoes” for just a little while, and their discoveries were astounding, and awakening, to the point that America should stand up and say, “This should not be happening,” especially not where we have fought, and continue to “fight,” for equality among all people.

A student from the inner city school, whose aspiration was to go on to college, and had taken all of the most difficult classes at the inner city school, sat in a math class at the suburban school, and shared that she was “lost.” She was unable to do the work because the courses offered at her school did not require these learning tasks. She shared her fears of not being prepared for college because her school did not have the same learning expectations as the suburban school.

The list of discrepancies shared goes on. The students from the suburban school who attended the inner city school were baffled by the experience and again, shared the unfairness.

The mother of a student attending the inner city school shared her thoughts, and tears, as she conveyed that she was not aware of the disparities between the schools.

All students need and want, high expectations; realistic, but high, and there should be nothing else required of all of our young citizens. In fact, studies reveal that students want teachers and school professionals, as well as parents, to have high expectations of them. We all rise to the “occasion,” and if we expect less, most of the time, we get less. And that is not fair to our children, or anyone.

We know, and research shows, that students who do not graduate from high school, will have a harder time getting a job and will make less money. A high school diploma has long been recognized, as a key step towards economic and social well-being.

Individuals with higher levels of education, enjoy higher income, more stable employment, and less dependency on public assistance, and those with more education are less likely to experience a variety of detrimental social outcomes, such as; early childbearing, reports of ill health, incarceration, or criminal victimization, the web site www. urban.org noted.

One can also argue, that for those very reasons, open-enrollment exists – for families to have choices. I believe open enrollment is not the answer. I believe education should be equal in all schools – regardless if you live in Edina or Minneapolis.

Some say open enrollment provides healthy competition, but I also believe this competition does not belong in this “setting.” I think legislation needs to step in and help tear these inequalities down. Every child deserves a quality education.

Some may say, “why should local control be taken away from the local communities and citizens – why should the taxpayers in, for example, Eden Prairie pay for a child’s education in south Minneapolis?”

Because they should. All children deserve a quality education, whether they live in Eden Prairie, Lester Prairie, south Minneapolis, Watertown, or Howard Lake. And because all children will be our future “resources” – making our decisions and making up our future workplace.

Referring back to the research – not graduating from high school is a factor in the poverty cycle and in the criminal system, and who pays for this? We all do. Taxpayers pay approximately $40,000 per year for every person incarcerated.

So, why not start our little children off on the “right” foot to begin with? We should all want what’s best for every child, so all children can have the chance to have bright futures that will affect us all.

Our children are our future: We should want all children to be positively affected by great teachers, classes, programs and schools.

I am certainly not writing this article to negate public education – I am a teacher, myself, and I love and respect the profession immensely, but the inequalities that exist in America among the school districts that teach our young citizens is baffling, and maddening to me.

What can we do?

I chose to write kids’ connection columns that are more action – oriented for readers and myself – to be able to take “things” home – and to be able to “do” things together as a family – with our children – or to just take in a bit of “food for thought” and mull it over. So what was the purpose of this article – what can we do?

We can always contact our legislators, encouraging equal funding among school districts, but probably more importantly, we can continue to nurture our children and their innate love of learning and their natural curiosity and not squelch their natural senses.

We can continue to inspire our children to be life-long learners, and to have those expectations that should be required of each child, depending on a child’s needs.

I believe knowledge is power. And we can continue to model life-long learning and a love of learning ourselves. We are never done learning. Let us all empower ourselves and our children and continue on the path of learning and discovering together.

As summer vacation is upon us, let’s continue to encourage our children’s natural curiosity and learning. Take your children to the library, read together, and encourage them to read to themselves, if they are able, and keep a summer reading list together.

Go fishing and discuss the environment and reptiles and amphibians and their living habitats.

Encourage your children to help around the house and with the yard work, to instill those wonderful work habits, as well.

Play in the sand and build different architectural sand castles and roads and bridges.

Encourage physical activity, whether it be swimming, walking, playing softball, baseball, soccer, playing at a park or lots of parks. Exercise is important for our children’s health and well-being.

As you may travel, learn about where you are going and the geography of the area. Learn more about the geography of Minnesota.

Hands-on learning is truly the learning that “sticks” with children the most. They learn best by being actively involved. It’s important that children learn facts, but probably or more importantly, is that they know where and how to find the facts.

We, as our children’s caregivers and parents, continue to be their teachers as well, and we need to encourage the learning process, whatever time of year it is.