Mind the free fall…I mean “gap.”

It has occurred to me recently that the word “gap” is both erroneous in scale and situation as applied to education.

It is wrong in scale because a “gap” is something you mind on the way out of the metro. Something you get corrected with braces. NOT something you can plummet into never to be heard from again.

It is wrong in situation because it is most commonly applied to the difference in academic success students of various demographic groups achieve while moving through K-12 education systems.

I have come to believe that greatest “gap” in services does not occur during school, but after.

Moreover, I’ve come to believe that what we THINK high school is for and the ultimate purpose it actually serves for ourselves and our society are two different things. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if what happens in the classroom may be the LEAST of our worries.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be measuring student achievement. We should absolutely as a society, be held accountable for who is able to tap into the opportunities offered in school and who is not. Whatever ills we might attribute to NCLB, the one thing it DID do was force us to quantify who our system was serving well and who it was serving not at all.

But I’ve come to believe that there is an even BIGGER “gap,” that we ARE NOT talking about, indeed, perhaps we are not even aware of. To illustrate this, let’s talk about all of the supports a student may get at school beyond the classroom. (I’m certain I’ve forgotten plenty.)

  • Up to two free meals a day, sometimes even in the summer.
  • Screenings for learning or physical disabilities and personalized learning plans tailored to their needs.
  • Mental Health support through social workers and school psychologists.
  • Support groups for depression, addiction, abuse, etc.
  • English Language acquisition and translation
  • Career or college advising from the guidance office.
  • Financial Aid advice
  • Mentorship from teachers or coaches who make authentic connections with them on a personal level.
  • Clubs or sports that allows them develop their body and creativity.

That’s not to mention all the social support from the peer group that has been with them, possibly, for the past 12 years. These peers know each other in a way that we never will.

After all of this, whether they get all A’s or barely pass with D’s, whether they participate in 10 clubs or no clubs, whether everyone in high school knows their name or whether they hide behind their hair and sit in the back of class their entire high school career, whether they graduate, drop-out, or age-out, in the end it’s all the same.

At the end of high school, this extensive network of opportunities…

…is simply gone.

After 12th grade, America has decided that its legal obligation to its young citizens (at least financially and federally) is dissolved. So unless you are lucky enough to have been born into a supportive family network, have joined a religious network, have qualified for an academic network, or bought into an economic network, you may have, at age 18, aged out of the most extensive, holistic, and inclusive social network you will ever know.

Good luck with the rest of your life.

That’s not a gap. It’s a gulf.

From this perspective, the hyper attention to quarterly markers of common core progress is the equivalent of holding a child’s hand over every seam in the sidewalk on their way to the edge of the Grand Canyon…where you drop them off and wish them the best.

This may sound melodramatic, but think about all the things that have to happen for a young person to effectively make the transition to college, and then through college, and then into the workforce, and then into a meaningful social network of friends and family. Think about what person has been your spotter during each of those steps or leaps across each of those gaps, and then think about what would have happened (or did happen) if they weren’t holding your hand.

Now go back to that list of all the things BESIDES academic support that high schools offer students, and ask whether the need for any of those things disappear at 18…or EVER.

Tomorrow I will talk about a group of people who have fallen into that chasm. Tomorrow we will ask ourselves if we are at all culpable for their fall and whether we have an obligation to call for search and rescue.

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