Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Lighting of a Fire

Whenever people grouse about ineffective government programs, the chief complaint heard is that the money could be better spent elsewhere. But although this comment gathers unfailing support where-ever government critics gather, the second step, ascertaining where the money is better spent, is typically neglected. I am pleased to report, however, that I had found a program that I felt genuinely did deserve the money, and at only $250,000 a year for the next three years, it is practically a bargain. 

The program's goal is to boost the graduation rate of students that are in any form of care program, which is reported to be around one in four compared to three in four for other students. The study showed that 15% of in-care students quit high school, three times the 5% average of other students, but I have to wonder, what happens to the other 60%? 15% quit, 25% (one in four) complete grade 12, what happens to everyone else? Anyway, regardless of the strange numbers, anything we can do to make life a little bit easier for children in care programs, I am pretty keen on supporting. 

The process by which they plan to raise this number involves increasing communication between social workers, teachers, and the guardians themselves. The same report demonstrated that there is often a deep divide between the groups of people, with guardians and caseworkers unaware if the kids are attending school, the school insensible of when the kids will show up and teachers unaware of caseworker's contact information in case of problems. I have always been a fan of communication, and this program could also help lower the risk of abuse suffered by children in care situations.

The enthusiasm I felt was sadly short-lived, and was quickly replaced by the kind of jaded cynicism I have honed to a fine edge over the years. Previous studies have shown that teacher's perceptions of students heavily effects student performance. If teachers are aware a student comes from a care program, it may cause them to be unfairly sympathetic or harsh on the student, causing harm to the ones that would have graduated anyway. Not only that, but it is unfair to the minors to simply release their personal information to anyone who happens to be their teacher. Sometimes we may need to disclose information about students for their own good, but these situations it might be more beneficial to leave it up to the student to decide if they wish to divulge such personal information. It is unfair that adults consider the right to privacy sacred, but minors are ignored. 
I am not prepared to extinguish the hope yet (Obama, you roguish minx, look what you've done!) I just think some caution is needed, and if we do not see results at the end of three years, we should probably abandon the program. But above all, it is good to see change happening.

The title:
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats


Anonymous said...

I'm OK with the lack of privacy for minors; it's because they're minors that others take care of them and the lack of privacy is for their benefit. Perhaps a related push is needed to ensure that teachers address their perception that students in care will likely do poorly.
lol, mapa

Miss Ernst said...

Although we should not just throw minors to the wolves and be like, "Enjoy your privacy!" neither can we assume anyone in a position to teach should also have private information that may be embarrassing to the student, and I worry that this is a bad precedent for such things. Especially without a confidentiality agreement in place for teachers (such as doctors enjoy).

The other problem is the bias seems to be unintentional; most teachers were unaware of their preferences. That makes it really difficult to address.

I am, on the whole, happy with the program, I just have some misgivings.