Friday, May 08, 2009

MCPS Looking At Ineligibility

Marcus Moore at The Gazette has a story this week about something that has bothered me for a long time. This article casts the situation in terms of race and ethnicity, but I think the problem is more general than that. It's the problem of "ineligibility" in school.
School system administrators are working to get more black and Hispanic students involved in after-school activities, after a recent report showed that those pupils were chronically ineligible.

The disparity is alarming, because students who are chronically ineligible for extracurricular activities — defined as ineligible for two marking periods —are more likely to be disinterested in programs that prepare them for college and the workforce, according to the report, released in December by the school system's Office of Shared Accountability.

Also, ineligible students run a greater risk of dropping out of high school, researchers wrote in the report.

Under school board policy, students with a grade-point average of less than 2.0 are ineligible for after-school activities, which include sports, band and clubs.

"As a system, we are shining a spotlight on ineligibility," said Adrian B. Talley, community superintendent for the school system's Clarksburg cluster and co-chair of an M-Stat group that is examining the ineligibility issue. Many of county's blacks, Hispanics ineligible for after-school activities

It's important to recognize that minority students are overrepresented in the ineligible category, I don't want to play that down, but it's heartbreaking for anybody to be ostracized by their school.

What happens is that the school identifies the students who most need special attention, the ones who are failing -- and takes away anything that might have motivated them.

You take a kid who plays an instrument, who can act, an athlete, a kid who does not do well in their academic classes. I think we can safely say that a student who is getting bad grades is one who does not study enough. And I think it's usually true that they don't study enough because they don't care. You could use sports, music, extracurricular activities to hook that student into the school community, you could turn school into something they care about. Instead, those students who need to connect the most are denied it.

I knew a struggling middle-schooler -- a white kid -- finally excited to go to school because he was in a play, he was learning his lines, talking about his role and the storyline and the set and the excitement of working with the other actors, and then, halfway through rehearsals, he was told he couldn't be in the play because his grades weren't good enough. This student ended up dropping out of high school. Luckily he's a bright kid who managed to get his GED at the same time his cohort graduated. Sadly, the Montgomery County Public Schools let him down. No, they didn't let him down, they drove him away. They use grades as a filter to determine who can be part of the school's activities and who can't, and if your grades aren't good enough, you can still attend the plays, the games, the concerts, you can sit in the audience and watch someone else get the applause, but you can't participate. Someone may think this is a way to "motivate" a kid, but it's exactly the opposite, it's a way to alienate them.

So now they say they're "shining a spotlight on ineligibility." Why am I not optimistic? Our culture cherishes punishment even though it doesn't work, this is not going to change until fundamental attitudes change, and they won't.

Again, I don't want to play down the racial and ethnic aspects, this is a system that works against black and Hispanic students, especially. Ostracism hurts everybody, preventing students from exercising their talents is cruel, not just for the minority students but for anyone it happens to.


Anonymous Robert said...

I concur. Thanks for bringing this up.


May 08, 2009 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Thanks for the post, Jim.

At my school we have so many teams to mentor students (of all races) who are failing courses and act as their parent by keeping in contact with all of their teachers to ensure that students are not falling behind-- but who is going to do this when they are in college? They won´t have the same type of support.

Besides, I don´t think this is an issue of race rather than socioeconomic background. We have Caucasian and Asian kids failing as well.

Another idea is that if you have a total of 10 Black kids in a school and 4 of them are failing class, well, then 40% of kids from that background are failing.

The numbers just don´t make a lot of sense in that respect. This is why it would be better to take a holistic approach and stop focusing so much on race.

May 08, 2009 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Some MCPS high schools are taking extra steps needed to engage kids who lose interest in school because of their ineligibility to play sports. Blair High School created the Blair Sports Academy, which enables ineligible students to play organized sports and attend academic support classes. Once their grades improve, they can join the school's varsity and junior varsity teams. Einstein High School has also made a big push to help its athletes stay eligible and reached 100% eligibility for the third quarter this year.

Let's hope more schools decide to make the extra effort to help kids become better students and stay eligible for athletics and other extra curricular activities rather then ostracizing students who are having academic difficulties.

May 09, 2009 1:34 PM  
Blogger Hazumu Osaragi said...

Often punishment is not for the benefit of the punished, but for the benefit of the punisher.

May 10, 2009 2:35 AM  

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