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Schools Expel Failing Students?

I have been tutoring, in one way or another, for more than a quarter-century, in Connecticut, New Jersey, and most recently, Nevada. Over the years, I have helped many students deal with various problems, both school and non-school related, and naturally, the more unique problems have stood out in my memory. However, when the same unique problem happens to five or six of my students, then the problem ceases to be unique, and becomes a troublesome issue that needs to be addressed.

About fifteen years ago, I met a high school freshman, along with his parents. This student was polite, soft-spoken, and quite shy, not unlike I was at that age. His parents said that he was having trouble with Algebra 1. It was the week before final exams, so I started tutoring him immediately. The first thing I noticed, was that when this young man was dividing 30 by 5, he used his fingers (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30), to arrive at the answer, 6. I asked him he could verbally tell me what 6 + 7 equaled. He could not do so without using his fingers. I asked him to read aloud from the math book. He read through the commas without pausing, and the periods without stopping. This student had received a "C" in Pre-Algebra and English, the year before, and he had been attending the same school since 6th grade.

We continued with his lesson, and when I asked on which day his Algebra I Final Exam was scheduled, he told me that he was not sure, since he had been expelled from school the previous week. I asked him the reason for which he was expelled, and he pulled out the expulsion notice and handed it to me. The reason was "Threatening Posture Toward Instructor". This young man swore that he had not done anything to threaten his teacher, and I believed him. I presumed that there had been some sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding on someone's behalf, and left it at that...But his story hoisted a red flag in my memory.

About three years later, I met with an 8th grader, who couldn't add or subtract single-digit numbers without using her fingers. She had been attending her school since the 3rd grade, had passed all of her courses the previous year, and she had been expelled three weeks prior to final exams, for fighting. This girl was twelve years old, about 4 1/2 feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than 65 lbs. She was delicate, soft-spoken and shy. She said that a fight had broken out within her proximity, but that she had not been involved.

Within the last year, I've seen two more students who have faced eerily similar situations, and this past June, I met a high school sophomore who couldn't perform rudimentary math functions (multiplying single-digit numbers), nor read above the level of a 4th or 5th grader. He had attended his school since the 6th grade, had passed all of his classes the previous year, and he had been expelled for verbally abusing another student, just two weeks shy of final exams.

When I went to high school, there were fist fights and resulting expulsions almost every day, but I cannot remember even hearing about a student being expelled for verbally abusing another student. Back then, we had another name for verbal abuse between two students: We called it a "conversation." In fact, if I made it through the day, and only received verbal abuse from other students, then I considered it a good day. You get my point.

I sat back and weighed the facts:

  1. #1. These kids were destined to fail their respective courses, and were never going to catch up, within their current schooling environments.
  2. #2. All of these kids were being expelled within two or three weeks of their final exams.
  3. #3. When a school's failure rate is high, it reflects negatively on the specific teacher and school.
  4. #4. A school's expulsion rate does not reflect negatively on the school. In fact, a high expulsion rate might be interpreted as a school's diligence in weeding out problem students, which parents would view as a plus.
  5. #5. All of these kids attended their respective schools for three or more consecutive years.
  6. #6. I have a keen sense in determining which of my students are trouble makers and which ones are not. Even with ample latitude, I could not picture any of these kids getting into the kind of trouble that would warrant expulsion.

My objective conclusion: These kids were pushed through their schooling systems, and when their lack of education became impossible to hide, they were being cut loose via expulsion, to avoid increasing the school's failure rate. You might think that my conclusion is far reaching, but I can assure you, that this practice is commonplace in the business world. When a company fires its employees, it is viewed as "decisive", whereas if their employees resign, the company is viewed as "suspect". In this case, sadly, it's the students who are paying the price for their school's missteps.

As you can guess, I don't believe in coincidences. If I witness strangely similar, troublesome events, occurring in more than one place and on more than one occasion, then I will presume that it is happening everywhere and all of the time. I would only remind parents, that the educational system is a business like any other. Schools compete with each other, in order to secure either government or private funding. Keep that in mind, if your child happens to experience a similar situation.

Go into every parent-teacher conference with the mindset that teachers are human, they make mistakes, they usually do not own up to their mistakes, and they are unconditionally backed by their school, so as to avoid potential legal backlash. Don't assume that the school is always telling the truth and your child is not. If you suspect that your school is trying to perpetrate a wrongful act against your child, stand your ground. There is nothing wrong with questioning authority, if you feel said authority is abusing their power. Remember, these are all concepts on which this nation was built.

--Editor, Tutor Pros

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Daniel Dayan of Tutor Pros

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