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Faith in schools

October 30, 2007, 11:27 am | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

Today the AP reported a John Hopkins study that found 12 percent of America’s high schools ‘dropout factories’ that graduate less than 60 percent of students who enter as freshmen. And according to the report,

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones — the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Aaron at Faithfully Liberal offers a personal testimony from his experience in a ‘dropout factory,’ and I’d like to add my own. In 2001, I taught 110 seventh graders in a rural school that was 90 percent African American and 50 percent impoverished. When I returned for their graduation this spring, about 65 kids crossed the stage. The kids who dropped out are effectively locked in poverty, and most of the graduates are academically far behind their peers in more affluent districts, which restricts their opportunities as well. Simply put, America’s education system contributes to the trap of concentrated poverty, and that is a moral scandal in a country that prides itself as a land of opportunity filled with people of deep faith.

No Child Left Behind created as many problems as it solved at my school, and vouchers would have done no good because there’s only one private school nearby, and it’s all white (actually, there are many other reasons vouchers wouldn’t work). But what’s missing isn’t just the right policy fix, it’s the sense of urgency. If Americans cared more about poor kids, we’d have taken much more drastic action by now. After all, this problem has been with us in some form or another since the country was founded.

When I was in Teach For America, we talked often about long-term goals, and the most eloquent one I ever heard was that one day we would look back at America’s separate, unequal education system as a thing of the past and ask ourselves as a society, “how did we ever let that happen?” To that I’d add “..and may God forgive us.”

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