10/11/08 — The real reward: True academic success isn't bestowed -- it must be earned

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The real reward: True academic success isn't bestowed -- it must be earned

Goldsboro resident Emily Westbrook -- and others like her who are disturbed by the Wayne County School District's discussion concerning the awarding -- or not awarding -- of zeroes -- are dead-on right.

In the real world, no matter how nice a person you are and no matter how much you try, if you are not performing up to par at work, you won't be able to keep your job.


Can you imagine asking your boss to give you a raise simply because you try? Or being the person who works his or her tail off at his or her job only to watch a promotion go to someone who -- although not completing the task assigned -- tried?

The modern educational system teaches children that someone is always going to be there to make excuses for them. If they can't perform, or are not interested in performing, they still get a certificate of completion or -- in this case -- a grade.

And that is a dangerous lesson to teach.

What would be much better is to show children that hard work has a reward -- and that a high school diploma is an honor that requires dedication and a commitment to excellence.

For some students, that might mean applying themselves to a training program to learn auto mechanics or health care assistant skills -- or satisfying basic reading and writing requirements and learning how to be the kind of worker businesses want to hire.  

For others, it could be getting a B or an A in advanced placement chemistry and setting their sights on a career in medicine.

Each is a worthy goal -- if the result is earned.

And that is the real problem. We are teaching children shortcuts that they might be able to use now but will not serve them well later.

If we want them to achieve, we have to expect more, demand more and make the possibilities available to them to get the job done. That might mean more targeted learning programs and more support for teachers and administrators in their pursuit of alternative coursework and more options for students who might want to get their diploma, but who have real obstacles to overcome. That way we could reward those who are trying and hold the lazy ones' feet to the fire.

Lowering the dropout rate should not really be our goal.

Increasing our graduation rate -- and the number of students who pursue higher education or are able to turn their education into a living -- should be.

This is not an easy step to take. The mechanism for judging schools is based on this archaic method of determining student achievement and school success -- and negotiating the slippery slope can be traumatic both for administrators and the teachers who are charged with getting students through the system.

But how wonderful would it be if this county -- right here -- was the first to say: "We will do everything we can to give you the opportunity to get an education -- except hand it to you. If you want a diploma, you have to earn it."

It might require more support from the community -- both in terms of parental involvement and local investment in alternative programs, as well as more tutors and other resources.

It wouldn't be easy. But in the end, it just might be worth it.

We will have to determine as a community if we are willing to take the tough steps necessary to achieve it.

Published in Editorials on October 11, 2008 11:31 PM