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Slipping Through Grand Canyon-Sized Cracks

By Alicia Dorr in News on Aug 15, 2007 6:12PM

1945lawrentiancartoon_sm.gifWhen we went to school, we didn't have any fancy phones to text on all day, we couldn't have any unexcused absences without threat of Saturday school and our shorts and skirts had to come down to our knees.

That's why we were absolutely shocked to read the results of a survey of Chicago Public Schools found that the average freshman missed 19 (!) days in an academic year and had 2.6 F's. F's! Is it just us, or are those some exceptionally depressing numbers?

The low attendance rates count cut classes in this survey, so it's not like they can blame it on the long walk to school. Arne Duncan (god love 'im) recognizes that this is one of the greatest challenges the system faces in trying to increase graduation rates and grades. In fact, he understands the importance of freshman year so much that he is personally going to knock on students' doors on September 8th if they cut class during the first week. This is just one more incentive not to skip, piled on top of the prospects of a car and other prizes the system offers.

While recognizing the problem is obviously the first step, we're not sure if giving a kid a car for improving school performance is a good solution. We may be old-fashioned, but what ever happened to academic incentives? Though we've always thought that discipline is a better way to ensure A's than giving a kid $10 for them, we realize that not being required to attend school after 16 at all can be more tempting for a kid who is struggling.

The only thing we remember keeping kids in school was promise of a better future — opportunities to learn trades like electrical engineering or auto mechanics, or the financial support needed for a college education. We know it's not that easy, that administrators can't snap their fingers and see a bunch of eager students before them, but many of these kids have been let down all their lives — isn't there a better way to get these children back in the fold?

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