School to prison?

For some children, school is little more than a fast-track to prison.

Is that what we want for them? Of course not. Tavis Smiley’s next PBS special, “Education Under Arrest,” asks some probing questions about whether society is doing right by the children who keep cycling in and out of detention, shuttling back and forth between the classroom and the cell.

“Education Under Arrest” will air Tuesday night on KACV-TV, beginning at 7 p.m.

Since this past January, I’ve been getting an inside look at much of what Smiley’s special talks about. As a juvenile supervision officer at the Youth Center of the High Plains, I am encountering young people who are facing many of the issues to be discussed in “Education Under Arrest.” Many of the kids are returning for the umpteenth time to the YCHP. Since my experience with them so far is limited, I haven’t seen much of the history of the kids’ earlier times at the center — but my more experienced juvenile corrections colleagues are full of information.

“The report card is not good,” Smiley says. “One in every three teens who is arrested is arrested in school — which literally arrests their progress for a promising education,” he adds.

Texas’s problem with youngsters who face the potential of a life behind bars really isn’t unique. You can visit every one of our 50 states and find similar circumstances. But there are some things that need educators’ attention if they hope to reverse the cycle Smiley discusses.

Public education needs to do better at keeping children in school. Texas does have a high dropout rate. In many Panhandle counties, the dropout rate is greater than the state average, which is among the worst among all the states. Panhandle Twenty/20, a group of educators, civic and business leaders, politicians and volunteers is seeking to reverse that trend here. Good luck to them as they keep fighting the battle.

Test scores need bolstering. Scholastic Aptitude Test scores among Texas high school students is the lower half of the national averages for both reading and math. How do we do that? Two things stand out: Get parents more involved; don’t burden teachers with mountains of paperwork and enable them to spend more time teaching and less time pushing paper.

Our children are our most precious resource. We must nurture them and ensure they find their way into productive adult lives. “Education Under Arrest” suggests we have a long way to go to fulfill that dream.


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