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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-06-16 - 11:36 a.m.

No Child Left Behind – Walk the Walk

By Joan Callaway

We say we want an educational policy of No Child Left Behind, but there is new evidence that our educational system is not meeting the needs of a great number of our children. The latest report from the Education Trust-West states that of the students enrolled in the ninth grade in 2000, 30% didn’t graduate in 2003. Further, it shows an even greater disparity for African Americans -41% and Latinos – 43%. Of those who graduated with their class, only one-third completed the courses required for admission to one of California’s four-year colleges with a grade of C or better…and for African-Americans it was only 24% and for Latinos 22%. Davis High School administrators say we have to view these statistics cautiously because many students move from the district, many of the Latinos returning to Mexico, therefore should not be counted.

[www2.edtrust.org/EDTrust/ETW/hs+report.htm]

We talk the talk, but not all schools walk the walk. Not all schools even offer all of the A to G courses in English, math, science, social science, foreign language, the arts and one college prep elective required for admission to the University of California or one of the California State Universities. And of those schools that do offer all of the courses, many do not have enough classes available for all of the interested students.

I would argue that although many trades now require some level of skill above the ability to read and do a bit of math, there may be better ways to teach those skills to students who seem destined to be in that group that will not graduate. Wouldn’t it be better to offer them some vocational studies that would prepare them for a job in the real world? It would not be necessary to establish a track at an early age as has been done in other countries – college bound or vocational, but just something that is available along with academic classes.

For those who would say there is no funding for such a vocational program, I would answer, “It costs $31,000 a year to incarcerate a person who is convicted of shoplifting. The price jumps significantly if the offender has a prior conviction. Taxpayers might secure greater value by spending that money on prevention through vocational education. You may say, “That’s quite a jump…from dropping out of school to being incarcerated in prison.” The average reading level of those in our prisons is that of a 12-year-old. Although many offenders may be morally challenged, a large percentage of those warehoused in our prisons have no marketable skills. Because our correction system does not focus on rehabilitation or on creating hope for inmates, recidivism is high.

And whose ideas was the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law? Even for such things as simple possession of a controlled substance or shoplifting? More than 36,000 of the current California prison population are serving prison sentences for simple possession of drugs. As a former storeowner, I might have selfishly applauded the incarceration of a shoplifter or the person who repeatedly broke my windows at night, robbing me of anything within arm’s reach, but not just to be warehoused in a prison, where they might learn new tricks of the trade. Savings reaped by restructuring this law could be better spent on education as a preventive measure – truly creating an educational policy of “no child left behind.” Walking the walk…!

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