Dumping Troubles on School Doorsteps
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're gonna hear next from a former high school teacher and journalist who has interviewed students at schools across the country. Commentator Dave Marcus says tightening budgets and changing academic priorities are taking resources away from some districts' efforts to help troubled students.
This is a morning checklist at many homes these days. Do the kids have their lunch boxes? Their Ritalin or Adderall? Their antidepressants? Their anti-anxiety meds? Overwhelmed mothers and fathers are dumping all kinds of troubles on school doorsteps. In every district, rich or poor, urban or suburban, principals and teachers are also overwhelmed. Counselors can't keep up. We give them huge case loads while insisting that schools improve test scores. In some districts, counselors who once focused on helping troubled children now spend almost half their day on oversight of No Child Left Behind requirements.
Many kids who need help are getting less of it than ever. During my travels to schools, I met a girl in Florida who was a top student, even after her mother died of cancer. Then, in 10th grade, she stopped going to math class because a boy who'd molested her in a locker room sat right behind her. But no one realized that. Not her twin brother, not her father and certainly not her guidance counselor. The counselor had to coordinate schedules, college applications and testing for more than 500 kids. The counselor didn't even know the name of the girl who'd been molested.
According to the American School Counselors Association, the average school today has one counselor for every 478 students. In California, the average is one per every 950. I believe in high standards, but as we ramp up the academic challenges, we have to do a better job teaching social and emotional skills. We need counselors who have the time and the expertise to sense when kids are having serious troubles, then work with mental health agencies. We need to ensure that violent kids like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris get help and so do all the students in turmoil whose names will never become headlines.
There's good news. Many effective programs don't put a strain on taxpayers. Some schools identify students who are drifting then link them to mentors. Quite a few high schools get kids engaged in volunteer work at elementary schools and nursing homes, giving teen-agers a sense of purpose.
Improving education doesn't simply mean boosting standardized scores. It means preparing kids to thrive long after they're done with algebra and history classes.
INSKEEP: That's commentary from Dave Marcus. He's the author of "What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble and How Four of Them Got Out."
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And to update the major story we're following this morning, Hurricane Katrina has weakened somewhat after making landfall this morning.. The storm is still packing 135-mile-an-hour winds as its center passes just east of New Orleans. Winds have already ripped off part of the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, where thousands of people who could not evacuate the city have taken shelter. Those who forecast damage say the hurricane could be the most expensive to ever hit the United States.
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