SIMMONS: Government’s not the ‘village’

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What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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Each year, an estimated 1.3 million youths drop out of high school, according to the advocacy group America’s Promise Alliance. The White House puts the number at 1.2 million. Whatever the exact number, many dropouts end up in jail and prison, some languish for years like lost souls, and others struggle to become productive citizens. Now is the time for solutions.

President Obama wants to lay on hands.

On Monday, the White House announced a plan geared toward stemming the dropout rate. But don’t be fooled. The plan, called School Turnaround Grants, comes with lots of strings attached. It tethers $900 million from Washington to local districts that carry out one of four approaches, which range from firing a school’s staff to closing the school.

It’s a typical Washington response, and the president delivered typical liberal rhetoric as part of the package.

“This is a problem we can’t afford to accept or ignore,” the president said Monday. “The stakes are too high - for our children, for our economy, for our country. Its time for all of us to come together - parents and students, principals and teachers, business leaders and elected officials - to end America’s dropout crisis.”

The Obama turnaround plan will get a wink from Republicans and fiscal conservatives because it has the essence of accountability. But here again, don’t be fooled.

“Parents” must be front and center, as mother, author and missionary Evelyn Bethune pointed out the other day.

The granddaughter of Bethune-Cookman University founder Mary McLeod Bethune, she lamented in a speech the blood and sweat of ancestors who wanted schooling but were denied and the fact that today, schooling is taken for granted.

“To have open access to education, we should relish that, cherish that, because people gave their lives for that to happen,” New Jersey’s Cape May County Herald quoted her as saying.

“We don’t,” she said, “push education like we used to.”

The dropout numbers bear that out. But what’s being done to curb them?

Well, there are all manner of government programs, school-reform programs and business and community programs out there. Some work, some don’t.

The government programs are on the “don’t” side of the ledger because of their one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, schoolchildren these days are treated no differently from prison inmates. The little ones get three hots and a cot, and the older students in urban schools are considered dangerous (greeted not by a familiar smiling face when they enter the schoolhouse but by metal detectors).

Some programs fall on both sides of the ledger because of low expectations that label kids and schools “at-risk,” “low-performing,” “special education,” etc.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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