Around the time that we moved to Indiana from Michigan, I went on a mission trip to the nation of Haiti. Haiti remains for me the only foreign nation other than Canada I have visited. When I got back home, I was quietly deeply in despair. The need there was overwhelming. If I spent my entire life working and sending every penny that I could spare to the work in Haiti, it wouldn’t even be a drop in the ocean. In more recent years I have come to a place where I recognize an uncomfortable truth: You can’t fix Haiti because the problems are not economic or cultural. The problem with Haiti is it is full of Haitians. Haiti is a problem without a solution.
That grim determination is not restricted to third world nations but is happening right here.
Last week Fox 45 in Baltimore ran a story that got a ton of coverage on /ourside/. The headline tells the story:
This 17 year old black student at Baltimore’s Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts should be getting ready to graduate soon but has managed to only complete 2.5 credits of schoolwork in four years but even still he is far from the worst student in the school:
In his four years at Augusta Fells, France’s son earned a GPA of 0.13. He only passed three classes, but his transcripts show his class rank is 62 out of 120. This means, nearly half his classmates, 58 of them, have a 0.13 grade point average or lower.
58 kids have a GPA lower than 0.13. I can’t find a breakdown of the school demographics but it is safe to assume that the vast majority of kids are black since Baltimore itself is 2/3 black and West Baltimore is even more so, along with being a haven for violent crime. The school district annual report seems to reflect this, most schools I saw were 95%+ black.
The story also reports that he was “was late or absent 272 days” which works out to an average of 68 times per school year. You might think that his mother would have some responsibility for making sure her kid was actually showing up to school but she apparently has no idea that he was missing a huge chunk of the school year and that is all the fault of the school.
This raises the question. How many tens or hundreds of thousands of kids just like this one are in America’s inner city schools? I have referenced this before in my post The Dumbing Down Of America : the story of Marqell McClendon, the valedictorian of Detroit’s Cody High School who arrived at Michigan State University incapable of completing basic math. When even the top student in a school can’t do basic math, isn’t it time to start rethinking the notion that evert high school graduate must go to college?
Who do we blame for this? Do we blame the teachers or the school system? Perhaps to an extent, there are plenty of mediocre and incompetent teachers and administrators who are just punching the clock each year until summer break and counting down the years until they can draw a full pension. What is more accurate is to realize that these inner city schools are a problem without a solution, just like Haiti.
There isn’t a policy solution, at least not one that stands a chance in hell of being adopted. There isn’t a magical level of funding that will turn things around. Literally no amount of spending will be enough. You cannot spend enough or care enough or invest enough resources to fix an unfixable problem. As long as we assume that every school district is comprised of students with identical ability levels things won’t change.
What should be done is to focus inner-city schools almost exclusively on vocational training so the kids who show up at least have a marketable skill when they graduate. Truly high ability students should be identified early and pulled out of the mainstream schools and be placed on a learning track that is challenging and prepares them for college. Those who refuse to show up? Well there is a solution for that too but it won’t be popular.
By definition, half of all children are of below average intelligence but that distribution is not evenly distributed in every school district. Before we moved to Indiana we lived in a very affluent suburb of Lansing. The graduating class from the local high school the year we left had literally two kids not go to college and the ones who did go were probably significantly smarter than anyone at any given Baltimore city school. Also not coincidentally, the school district was overwhelmingly White with a very large percentage of East Asians.
The task of educating inner city kids to become college ready is an impossible one. You can’t teach students who miss 70 days in a school year and have well below average IQs the same way you do kids from intact homes with higher IQs. Those movies about dedicated teachers who break through the tough guy exteriors and turn those kids into scholars? They are just movies. In the real world the inner-city high school is a violent place full of kids who are poor and from broken homes lacking the basic cognitive ability to succeed in an educational system aimed to forcing every kid to go to college. No amount of hand-wringing and soul-searching will change this.
Some tasks are just impossible and it is time to recognize this.