Why Renaming a ‘Dropout’ a ‘Pushout’ Will Save No One

by Christopher Paslay

Recently, there has been a grassroots movement by progressives in education to rename a school “dropout” a “pushout.”  Groups such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and most recently the blog Voice of Philadelphia, have all been throwing around the term “pushout” with the clear purpose of hoping it will catch hold and grow roots in the world of education as well as the popular culture; tragically, it appears the term has started to take root, as is evidenced by its frequent mention in the media and on the internet (google the term “pushout” and you can see for yourself).

A closer look at the two terms reveals that although their denotation is the same—they both define children who leave school and fail to graduate—their connotations are quite different.  A dropout connotes an individual who knowingly quits school of his own freewill and accord.  A pushout, on the other hand, defines someone who is forced out of school by forces beyond their control.  More simply put, dropouts are drivers while pushouts are passengers; the latter is active, the former is passive.          

There are several reasons why progressives are fighting to rename a dropout a pushout.  The most obvious is to bring about school reform—to blame poor graduation rates on schools in an effort to improve them.  This indeed has merit.  In the 21st century, no student can afford to be left behind without a solid education. 

To quote Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, in his 2006 report, Educating School Teachers, “The fact that all students are expected to achieve these outcomes means that drop-outs, once viewed as the cost of doing business in schools, can no longer be tolerated. The low skilled jobs once available to them have moved abroad. So teachers must now be able to educate every child in the class to achieve the same learning outcomes at a time in which the student body has changed economically, racially, geographically, linguistically, and academically.”

In addition to reforming schools, however, progressives have other reasons for renaming dropouts pushouts.  At the heart of the movement is the notion of victimhood and the liberal left’s obsession with it.  Put another way, coining a dropout a pushout fits their classic mode of operandi: the existence of oppressors and oppressed.  It is within this structure that social responsibility can be promoted over personal responsibility, that children can be programmed to be lifelong passengers who are always acted upon rather than drivers who do the acting; this in turn translates to their reliance on social programs as opposed to private enterprise.

This is a great philosophy if you believe in socialism and government regulation over capitalism and competition.  The only problem is, of course, is that teaching children that they are victims is doing nothing to empower them to take control of their educations; the fact that a large graduation gap between urban and suburban students exists is proof that preaching victimhood is not the answer.

Instead of teaching students to blame their failures on the system, education advocates should be encouraging children to make intrinsic paradigm shifts that will help them live principle-centered lives that will keep them on the path to graduation; they must be taught change starts from within.

The lessons taught in Bill Cosby’s 2007 book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors would be a great place to start.  In it Cosby and his longtime friend Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint discuss ways families and children can turn around their lives and make the most of their educations. 

With subchapters named “Acknowledge the problem,” “Face the Facts,” “Tone Down the Culture,” “Give Fatherhood a Second Chance,” “Reject Victimhood,” “Replace Victimhood with Neighborhood,” “Talk to the Police,” “Turn Off the TV,” “Back Off the Rap,” “Respect Our Elders,” “Overcome the Past,” “Lose the Guns and the Rage,” “Get All the School You Can Get,” “Help the Poor Help Themselves,” “Take Care of Our Own,” and “Break the Chains,” among many others, the book replaces excuses with traditional values that urban youth can use to stay in school and remain on the path to achieving a better quality of life.        

Renaming a dropout a pushout will save no one.  In the end, the only viable way for a student to get an education is for him or her to actively pursue one.     

Philadelphia School District graduation rate betters America’s college graduation rate

by Christopher Paslay


In a recent Inquirer article headlined “School proposal targets dropout problem,” writer Kristen A. Graham describes the Philadelphia School District’s graduation rate as “among the worst in the country—about 50 percent.” 


I find her choice of words quite interesting.  For starters, the district’s graduation rate isn’t among the worst in the country.  According to Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap, a report prepared for America’s Promise Alliance by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, Philadelphia’s graduation rate is well over half. 


Listed at 62 percent, it was tied for 12th out of America’s 50 largest urban districts in 2005.  Only six percentage points separated Philadelphia from #5 ranked Colorado Springs School District, which graduated 68 percent of their students within four years.


12th out of 50 is hardly “among the worst in the country.”


It doesn’t appear that the Inquirer gives much credence to the Cities in Crisis report, however.  The Inky seems to prefer statistics compiled in a 2006 Johns Hopkins University study which put the city’s graduation rate at 54 percent (according to Cities in Crisis, there were 26 schools under 54 percent, which would still put the district in the top half).


But even at 54 percent, the district still has a higher graduation rate than America’s colleges.  According to the American Enterprise Institute, only 53 percent of college students graduated in six years with a bachelor’s degree from schools they enrolled in as freshmen. 


Several local colleges and universities graduated even less.  Widener University graduated 52 percent; Delaware Valley College and Philadelphia University graduated 50 percent; Lincoln University graduated 38 percent; and Cheyney University graduated only 29 percent.         


Education officials offered reasons for the low numbers.  Among them were the fact that some schools enroll first-generation Americans and low-income students who are in need of extra support. 


Cheyney spokeswoman Antoinette Colon also gave reasons for the low graduation rates.  “We traditionally take students who come from underestablished educational systems in Philadelphia and the Chester area,” she said.


Very interesting.  College graduation rates are low because of first-generation Americans (English language learners) and because they take kids from poor neighborhoods. 


Sounds a lot like the Philadelphia School District.


Of course, there are some major differences between America’s colleges and our city’s public school system.  For starters, colleges and universities get to pick-and-choose their clientele—they can weed-out and reject students because of low academic performance or behavioral problems or any other reason they so choose. 


Because of Pennsylvania’s Compulsory Education law, the Philadelphia School District must accept all children—even those who don’t want to be in school, those who are violent, emotionally disturbed, or here in this country illegally. 


Other differences between America’s colleges and our city’s school system: colleges have abundant supplies and resources; Philly schools don’t; colleges can throw failing and unruly students out to preserve order and control; Philly school can’t; colleges are headed by prestigious “high quality” educators with doctoral degrees, Philly schools, to quote the Inquirer, “are straddled with bad teachers” and are run by Teach for America transplants.    


All in all, I think the district is doing a bang-up job for keeping pace with America’s colleges and universities. 


After all, they could be worse.  They could be Lincoln or Cheyney University, whose graduation rates are 38 and 29 percent, respectively.