Tuesday, October 26, 2004

No Child Left Behind

Doug Manning talks about what he'd do to raise graduation rates:
"Although external motivation works for many students, its effectiveness has maxed out. For every 100 students who enter 9th grade in the U.S., 68 graduate four years later. For 32% of students, external motivation is clearly not enough.

If we truly seek to reach every child with meaningful education, we must initiate new programs that focus on the internal motivations and self-management skills of students. Most students who leave or skip school are capable of doing well in the system. They simply see no reason to be there."
Is it even possible to really tap the internal motivations of students within the constraints and curriculum of schools? I'd like to think so, but I'm not sure. BC had a program similar to Doug's vision, with students doing a career and personal planning course nearly every year from junior high to graduation. They've since modified it, but that's another story. It seemed to me that one of the main weaknesses of a program like it is that there is a distinct lack of context. Like almost everything else in school, studying anything -- even your aspirations -- in isolation becomes just another hoop to jump through. Even if students engage in the process of figuring out their likes, goals, and future possibilities, will they see any connection to their day-to-day performance in their other classes?

The strength of Doug's vision is in the focus on self-management skills. I still feel that this is the primary weakness of the education system: it doesn't encourage people to take responsibility for their learning and personal development. Technology, distance learning, communities of practice, homeschooling, and alternative schools are providing these tools, or could be providing them, but it seems like an uphill battle.

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