Mandating of school until age 18 is well-intentioned but a bad idea

Let’s consider more closely Schenectady’s move in the direction of making school mandatory until age

Let’s consider more closely Schenectady’s move in the direction of making school mandatory until age 18. As things stand now, a Schenectady Board of Education committee is ready to bring a draft to the full board for a vote. Approving this plan, though, would be another bad idea — in this case by school board leaders who apparently don’t comprehend the reality of life in classrooms and hallways.

Unlike many of the decision-makers guiding policy at the state Education Department, the advocates for this policy in Schenectady are at least elected. And their idea is well-intentioned, but also badly out of sync with any realistic plan to raise the quality of education in urban schools.

Whether or not one wishes to acknowledge reality: Students who don’t value education tend to be the most disruptive factors in a school population. Some teachers and administrators use half of their time and energy just dealing with the students who are not willing to learn.

The plan to make school mandatory through age 18 comes from a model of public education that views schools as day-care centers for adolescents. This provides an excuse to use public schools to warehouse disconnected adolescents who should instead be in vocational training programs outside the regular classroom. New school board member Ed Kosiur is certainly well-intentioned when he argues that age 16 is simply too young for students to make a decision that has far-reaching consequences.

Perhaps more reasonable is the argument that 15 or 16 is also simply too young for the majority of other students to be subjected to classroom and hallway conditions dominated by the social issues of older students who don’t value education and don’t want to be in school. Schools do not have the infrastructure to operate as adolescent day-care centers.

Graduation rates

It is also a grim reality that many urban schools such as Schenectady and Albany face graduation rates of 48-54 percent for boys and 55-61 percent for girls. The remedy, though, is NOT to warehouse kids in urban schools that must be monitored by the police.

The dropout issue is less a problem of the schools than it is of the wider, commercial-oriented culture that bamboozles so many into believing that achievement in school is only for those students stigmatized as “nerds,” those students so “uncool” that they actually care about achievement and education. Parents and educators already have a steep uphill fight against this ludicrous attitude.

Another concern is the way U.S. technical businesses have begun to shape the public school curriculum to produce pre-trained workers.

The same tech companies that run large-scale tax avoidance operations, while complaining so much about the lack of qualified graduates for job placements, have themselves done a lousy job of organizing their own training programs for U.S. youths.

Poor training programs

Compared to European apprenticeship programs that are organized to provide specific job training for academically uninterested students age 15-17, the U.S has never established — despite BOCES — a good apprentice program.

The European programs require students to spend just several hours per week in school. The rest of the time they are apprentices in training programs in professions such as plumbing, computer operations, accounting, carpentry, hair care, dental hygiene, etc. The student apprentices receive a nominal salary and a professional certificate. In return, businesses and companies benefit by gaining inexpensive temporary workers who don’t require fringe benefits.

Such a system also removes indifferent, resentful students from the educational process so that schools can focus on their main job — teaching and learning. In the U.S. we have missed the boat on establishing a good vocational training system, and we pay the price in terms of lower productivity and high rates of youth unemployment and crime.

The expectation now that the public schools should carry the burden isn’t reasonable. Schools are about providing quality education to the majority of willing student learners, not about providing oversight for unwilling older teens.

Teachers and school administrators have enough problems with new, contradictory state standards and with all the tech business interests intruding into the schools.

Like so many other well-intentioned but naïve ideas from people outside actual school classrooms and hallways, the idea that Schenectady High School should be child-sitting for indifferent 16- to 17-year-old adolescents is a misguided one. It is another bad idea that will lower the quality of the educational environment for the majority of students who are willing to learn. Besides all this, it just isn’t fair to the many students who care about school.

With all due respect to Mr. Kosiur, his proposal would undermine the ongoing, difficult task of raising academic and social standards in our public schools.

Best option

The GED program still remains the best option for young adults who want a second or third or fourth chance. How about coming up with a realistic plan to upgrade the GED program? This is a better idea.

The issues are complicated, but schools have more important tasks than providing day care for indifferent students who don’t want a free public education. The new proposal in Schenectady to make school mandatory until age 18 stands in contradiction to the task of improving educational quality. It is not a good idea.

L.D. Davidson lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

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