Why the DACA Kids Must Become a Priority

Drop-out numbers provide more evidence for the U.S. achievement gap when broken down, and hidden in those numbers is a Dreamer fact that seems to escape many of our nation’s leaders. Our schools are teaching Dreamer children, the sons and daughters of undocumented workers facing an uncertain future. These children, like all children, only bring so much hope and resilience into the classroom. The amounts vary. Some kids can ignore the reality of their daily lives almost completely while happily planning to be part of the first Martian colony. Others take more prosaic views of their lives, however, and believe what older siblings and adults tell them.

“You can’t be a nurse. You don’t have a social,” big brother says. (Short for social security number.)

“You can’t be a teacher. They are going to make us go back to Guatemala anyway,” big sister says.

That “social” is an especially big deal. Without that magic number, many occupations are effectively closed to Dreamer children. Factory or yardwork jobs are possible, but any position that requires a background check is pretty much off-limits. Almost all college loans require that social, too, although a number of colleges and universities are running their own loan programs.

Dreamer children easily lose hope, and often at a young age. I have watched many slip away from me in middle school, using their Dreamer status as a reason and sometimes an excuse for the studying that never happens and work that never gets turned in. Giving adolescents an excuse not to work will always be a loser. Giving them no reason to dream is criminal.

The Hispanic dropout rate always comes in highest when we look at government charts, despite the fact that many of these children come from intact families with a solid work ethic. Mom and dad may be working three or four jobs between the two of them. For the year 2015, the U.S. government estimates 4.6% of whites dropped out of high school, 6.5% of blacks, and 9.2% of Hispanics.*

We might pause to congratulate ourselves that the gap between whites and African-Americans stood at only 1.9 percentage points in 2015, down from 6.2 percent points in 2000. But if we want to see a similar narrowing of the gap between our Nonhispanic White and Hispanic students, we will have to address the challenge of those Dreamer children, the ones who do not see the point in finishing high school because they don’t believe 1) that they can afford college and 2) that college will allow them to realize the dreams they once had, before a realistic friend or family member explained how that “social” number worked.

*https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_219.70.asp?current=yes See also https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16

Data Leading Us Astray

We use cooperative learning to group students so that stronger students can teach weaker students when the differentiating teacher is busy scaffolding elsewhere in the room.  If we have the resources (teachers often spend their own money or try for crowdfunding options), we split into different groups with different books – when allowed. Administrative demands for grade-wide, comparable data may force the use of one book and one set of materials so that all tests and quizzes throughout a grade can be measured against each other. Data, data, data.

Our children are not data. They are children. Considering the costs of gathering data, we should be asking if the informational benefits received warrant the extra effort and lost time that result from all those spreadsheets. What was wrong with report cards, the data of the past?

Among other considerations, let’s be clear: I don’t need 25 spreadsheets to tell me that “Sadie” can’t read. I figured that out the first time I sat down beside her and listened to her try to read.

Raising the Bar for Kids Who Never Got Over the First Bar

That new, tougher curriculum resulting from those new Common Core standards? It’s sucking up existing teaching hours like a raging river adding water to a flood. Meetings, professional developments, retooled lesson plans, lost students, unfamiliar books and software… Time bleeds away as teachers take this latest shift in focus and make it work.

Here is what I observed while teaching that curriculum: Remediation is getting sacrificed to idealistic learning targets, while the students at the bottom of the learning curve only become more confused. Making existing content more demanding without offering adequate time and resources to teach missed material from earlier years means students who only understood a fraction of what was coming at them daily now understand an even smaller fraction than before.

Eduhonesty: Let’s step outside the above verbiage. Kids don’t grasp why they suddenly understand much less of the curriculum than they did the previous year. They just know they fell from the upper-middle of the state standardized test to the lower-middle a few years ago, in one deep, ugly, PARCC or Smarter Balanced plunge, and somehow they cannot get off the bottom.

In concrete terms, we are making whole groups of capable young people feel dumber than rocks.