A change of direction

Published 8:53 pm Saturday, March 3, 2012

One of the fundamental purposes of school is to prepare young people to be productive adults. The educational paths that youth take will lead them to a variety of destinations: Some will choose four-year colleges, others will be content with two-year degrees, and some will opt for the military or go directly into a vocation. It all depends on talent, preparation and financial ability.

The paths that young students take through their educational careers can also lead them to some pretty unsavory places. A trendy phrase among today’s educators, social architects and commentators refers to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the path that for many teens leads seemingly inexorably from trouble in middle and high school to trouble with the law and ultimately to jail. Avoiding such negative outcomes is one important reason for teens to stay on a path that leads to productivity.

But public school systems have a big responsibility when it comes to guiding students down the right paths and helping them to avoid the ones that lead to destruction. Suffolk, judging from the statistics in a recent state report on college attendance, is failing to help a significant number of its students find that path.

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According to the Virginia Department of Education, the city’s school system lags behind state averages in both college enrollment and in completing college credits once enrolled. Both are measures of students’ level of preparation for college once they graduate from high school.

The results show that as a whole, Suffolk is eight percentage points behind the state average of the rate of 2011 graduates earning either a standard or advanced diploma who enrolled in college within 16 months of leaving high school. Furthermore, Suffolk graduates also lag in achievement during the first two years of college.

Suffolk already is hampered by comparatively high dropout levels and low test scores. Given those handicaps, it might not be all that surprising to learn that those students who graduate from Suffolk’s public schools are, on average, ill-prepared to enter college or to excel once they arrive.

Not everyone is cut out for college, of course. That’s why vocational education and similar programs are important in a public school system. But those who have the aptitude, the desire and the money to do so should not find themselves suffering from substandard preparation. There are enough obstacles on that educational path without them facing systemic ones put in place by school administrators.

Yet, instead of spending every available resource identifying and finding solutions to the problems that obviously plague the school system, Suffolk’s school board insists that things like cross-dressing policies are the topics that should occupy their time. Instead of clearing the college-bound path for the average student, administrators throw up excuses and rationalizations for their failures.

Statistics show that Suffolk schools are on their own path to destruction. It’s time — past time, actually — for them to take stock of their situation and consider a true change of direction.