Instead of Creating Charters, Just Incarcerate the Students

A Massachusetts state commission has solved the high school drop-out problem. Just incarcerate the students. That’s the thrust of its recommendation.

According to the Boston Globe, Paul Reville, the secretary of education and chairman of the commission, urges action because  “we can ill afford the waste, loss and tragedy these persistent [drop-out] rates represent.”

It is true that nearly a third of the nation’s 9th graders—and about half those attending dangerous big city schools—have voted with their feet against the disastrous state of the modern public high school.  They have concluded that they don’t want to stick around for four more years just to get a diploma from their local school.

Schools are like jails, the great sociologist James Coleman once wrote. The inmates hate the authorities and sabotage the mission of the place. The teachers reach a compromise with the students, explains Theodore Sizer, Harvard’s former dean of the school of education. As long as the inmates sit quietly, the teachers will let them get by.   In this kind of environment, the peer group takes charge. And when the peer group is organized into gangs, as in many inner city high schools, life in the school jail can get pretty tough.

In most parts of the country, students have the option of getting out of the school jail at age 16, sometimes even younger. They can get a diploma by taking the equivalency exam, or they can take high school courses at community colleges, or, in Florida and a few other states, they can take courses on line over the internet.

But when students drop out, it means less money for public schools from the enrollment-based state aid formula.  Less money means fewer employees and fewer union members.

So if students don’t want to go to school at age 16 and 17, they should be incarcerated, Reville insists. Dragged off by the truant police and stuck in a classroom. Surely, they will learn, if only they can be badgered into getting to school on time.

Paul Reville, appointee of Massachusetts’ hapless governor Deval Patrick, is the same guy who has shut down the formation of any new charters in Massachusetts (with a possible exception or two if necessary to placate the Boston Globe or get “race to the top” money from the Obama Administration.)

According to Reville’s incarceration theory, it is wrong to give students a choice of school.   If that should happen, high school students would abandon the neighborhood high school in droves. That would be a true disaster.  Don’t create charters: Incarcerate instead.


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