Friday, June 4, 2010

Like cures like?

Yesterday some fellow CREOL students and I visited a high school in Sanford to discuss our roles as graduate students and to demonstrate some basic scientific principles of our research with the students. The high school is a special school that is administered by Seminole County for students who have been expelled from normal public high schools. The idea (at least how I understand it) is that placing students with similar behavioral problems in the same setting will allow them to receive more attention from teachers since they are no longer overshadowed by the well-performing students. Of course, the obvious objection to a school such as this is that packing many students who all have had disciplinary issues into the same classroom will prevent everyone from learning effectively since the teachers will be less likely to control the students given their nature.

After speaking with one of the teachers, the consensus seemed to be that the system was working and that the students were more eager to learn (on the average) than they were at a normal institution. Specifically she cited the personal attention that the students receive as a major cause for their better performance. Of course, the school still has a wealth of issues with discipline, but if a few students end up for the better, then I suppose that the school has served some good utilitarian purpose.

Keeping with a utilitarian discussion, it would be worthwhile to consider the cost per student that is paid by the government (and indirectly by taxpayers) to run such a school. Suppose only a small percentage of the students actually perform better academically at this school after having been expelled from a normal public high school. Would the additional costs of running this school justify the improvement in the education of this small percentage?

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what my opinion is on the matter. However, I sincerely respect the teachers, both here and at all schools, who have to deal with both the duty of educating the youth and the need to maneuver through an often hostile bureaucratic system of school administration.