This week one of my students was officially dropped from my class roster. I hadn’t seen Rufus (his Latin class name) in a while and other students told me he was planning to drop out. He’s been a student in my class for almost two years, and with only 2 1/2 months left in his high school career Rufus has walked away. The number of adults who’ve attempted to get him into school and to support him is probably too high to count. There have been calls home and meetings and interventions and disciplinary actions and accommodations made. But in the end, he has walked away.
So who has failed here? Has our public school failed him? Have his individual teachers failed to somehow connect with Rufus? Have the guidance counselors, special education liaisons, administrators, and advisors all failed? Have his classmates somehow failed to help their friend stay on track? If he had more personal relationships with his teachers and adults, would he have stuck around? Have we, in fact, failed Rufus?
Legislation like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top consistently says that it is the schools and teachers that have failed kids like Rufus. “The schools are failing our kids. Teachers are failing our kids.” That’s what the policy makers say. And ratings that measure school success count the percentage of students who don’t graduate and consequently lower the ranking of each district based on that number. The proposed merit pay for teachers won’t come to those of us who work so hard and so long only to have a student walk away. Policy makers don’t seem to recognize the influences that pull kids out of school: drugs, family crises, financial distress, etc. They only focus on pointing to those who are working so hard for kids to get a student this close to graduating, only to fail in the end.
I’m sad to have Rufus so quietly deleted from my gradebook this week. I hope to see him at some point, to say goodbye and to wish him good luck in the future. In the end I do not believe that our school that has failed. I didn’t fail Rufus. We didn’t leave him behind. One day, he just decided to walk away.