As a long-time educator, I’ve always appreciated Mark Twain, particularly because I can encapsulate my opinions about education legislation with two of his quotes. The first is for my students. “I have never let my school interfere with my education,” demonstrates the importance of taking charge of your own life regardless of what The Man makes you do. The second quote is for the legislators who make it increasingly difficult for students to be able to take charge of their own lives. “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” Nothing productive is achieved in hobbling students in their quest for self-actualization, but all the activity looks like progress.
An empowered person is a happy person. A happy person benefits society. A person rendered powerless by the system will seek to fight back, often making poor choices because they never learned that they could both choose their own path AND make good decisions. What is more important than test scores or even college readiness is getting students graduated and living the life they want to lead. Certainly we need to encourage every individual to fulfill his or her potential, but we cannot apply the same metric of success to all students. Forcing students to be “college ready” to graduate high school when they don’t plan on attending college is asinine. We can show students the correlating data on income level and education level, but income is not the ultimate determiner of success. Ironically, if it were, there would be far fewer educators in this country. What we need to provide for our nation’s students is the necessary steps to attain the life they want and a realistic understanding of their role in meeting those milestones.
Helping students find their own way is more effective than forcing them to follow our way. Arbitrary high stakes testing only beats the hope out of low performers because we hyper-focus on those results. This makes students drop out. When students drop out of school they have a drastically higher chance of becoming criminals. Keeping students in school until they at least graduate from high school drastically increases their chances of maturing into contributing members of society.
The graphics below demonstrate these assertions. The first is a straight forward look at the education level of the United States’ prison population. The second graphic, is two maps of Florida combined. The underlying heat map shows the number of Florida Department of Corrections inmates arrested in that area. The map markers rank Florida county high school dropout rates into tertiles. The third graphic shows the incarceration rates by zip code in Lake County, Indiana compared with the graduation rates in the same zip codes.