Wednesday, December 27, 2006

How BOCES' Expansion Will Hurt Students and Taxpayers

An editorial in yesterday's OD praising the proposed BOCES expansion plan was long on rhetoric and short on logic. While the shortage of skilled tradespeople in the area is used to justify the project, no attempt whatsoever is made to determine the CAUSES of the shortage, much less than determine whether the project addresses them. If the project does not address the causes of the shortage, the project should not be expected to relieve the shortage, and the shortage should not be used to justify the project.

While there are likely many causes for the shortage of skilled tradespeople in our area, school leaders should at least acknowledge and rectify how they may have contributed to the situation.

Possible cause #1: "The stigma":

People are often judged by those they associate with. Some students avoid going to BOCES (and are deterred from the trades) because the local BOCES has a stigma of being the place where "dummies" are sent. While this is an unfair characterization of many BOCES students, the perception nevertheless exists and must be dealt with. Although the OD editorial acknowledges the stigma's existence, merely calling the stigma "unfounded" does not make it go away, does not make it less a deterrent, and does not address its cause. BOCES may have earned its reputation by encouraging itself to be used as a repository for problem students . If this is recognized, then it becomes easy to see that the plan to ship special education and alternative education programs to BOCES will only contribute to and reinforce "the stigma," further deterring some students from entering the trades.

Possible cause #2: Wasted Time:

While unavoidable for some students, riding a school bus to and from BOCES is still a waste of time, perhaps a lost class period in each direction. Undoubtedly, the cross-town bus ride to BOCES discourages many from entering its programs. The proposed project does nothing to reduce or eliminate the need for cross-town busing.

Possible cause #3: Scheduling Difficulties and the "Sieve" Effect:

A product of cause #2, to reduce some of the going back-and-forth travel students often must spend half their day in regular school, and half at the BOCES campus . Since most academic subjects would have to be squeezed into half a day, students might be forced to choose between those subjects that will help them get into college and those that would prepare them for a trade. Unintentionally, the situation acts as a "sieve" with the better prepared students taking the college track while the poorer performers going to BOCES -- contributing to the "stigma" of cause #1 above. Again, the proposed project does nothing to address the difficulty of integrating academic with vocational courses.

Deterring students from trades is not the only harm.

We explained a couple days ago how the "alternative education" program represents a failure of the local school system that should not be rewarded with institutionalization at BOCES. Schools need to address the root causes of their need for "alternative education" instead of being allowed by BOCES to escape their responsibilities.

Similarly, isolating special education students at BOCES will encourage more laziness among the local school districts in addressing these students' needs, and possibly may violate federal regulations which require that special education students be educated in the "least restrictive environment." Forty years ago special education was reserved for those who were truly disabled (the blind, the deaf, the crippled). There was no such thing as being "educationally disabled" or "learning disabilities" -- because they would have been seen for what they are: the products of laziness on the part of the school system. Those students used to learn in the regular classroom. It not only is wasteful to pay for more of the same, it is unfair to students who are, quite literally, being systematically deprived of an education. Few students in the special ed system ever graduate with a regular diploma. Isolating them in a BOCES "gulag" not only sweeps the problem with our local schools under the rug (out of sight -- out of mind), it is cruel and inhuman.

Students, taxpayers, and society will be harmed by this proposal.

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