Monday, March 06, 2006

Not Understandable, or Not Interesting?

Several stories appeared in the news last week about a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation survey which questioned high school drop-outs on why they dropped out. The findings were quite interesting. Most weren't failing; more than 6 in 10 were earning C averages or better when they dropped out. Most (70%) also believed they could have finished high school if they'd tried. You can read one story about the findings in USA Today, here, "Dropouts say their schools expected too little of them".

Some studies have found that about 15-20% of high school dropouts test in the gifted range, so the answers these young people gave aren't terribly surprising to me. But what was surprising was one education expert's attempts to down play the findings and pretty much rule out the explanation that school really is too boring and too slow moving for a lot of kids. According to the USA Today article, Jay Greene, who chairs the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says the report gives an interesting perspective.

But Greene, notes the article, cautions that students' points of view represent only "a partial and possibly distorted picture."

According to the article: "For instance, 69% of dropouts say they weren't motivated, and another 47% say classes weren't interesting. That is simply another way for students to say that their basic skills weren't up to the task of high school-level work, Greene says. 'Being in school seems like a big waste of your time because you don't understand what's going on. You can't understand the material that's being assigned to you.'"

Um, what if they really do understand it? What if they aren't motivated in part because classes aren't interesting, and because they're not being challenged? I thought big chunks of high school were a waste of time, and I did understand the material being assigned to me. Personally, I'm inclined to take the perspective of dropouts who weren't failing at face value. High school needs to be more challenging for all students -- and gifted ones, especially. Being gifted is no protection against dropping out.

Unfortunately, being gifted is also no protection against the problems that young droupouts encounter, including having trouble finding jobs and qualifying for other educational opportunities. Hopefully the Gates Foundation will put their money behind finding ways to keep gifted kids engaged in school as a result of this report (alas, I'm not holding my breath, given the Small Learning Communities initiatives the foundation has been funding).

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I also agree with the kids' version too. This was the case with my daughter and myself. It is awful to have to go to school every day and not learn anything except how to deal with boredom. It is no surprise to me why the dropout rate is so high in our public schools.