Sunday, June 23, 1996
Who can we blame for dropouts?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Excuse me for saying so, because I enjoy blood and gore as much as the next person, but the scariest story all week was the one about public schools.

Kids are dropping out in record numbers, and guess who is to blame? Their teachers. Not their parents. Not crime. Not drugs. Not poverty. Certainly not their public officials.

This information comes to us from state Rep. Mike Fox, R-Indian Springs, who chairs the House Education Committee. ''We are beyond crisis,'' he said as he released findings that graduation rates at Ohio's urban schools have dropped dramatically over the past 12 years, with only Youngstown's worse than Cincinnati's.

He says the big problem is that we're paying teachers too much. There must be shrieks of laughter out there from all the overpaid teachers eating Grey Poupon from the backseats of their limos. Teachers' country clubs must be planning to raise their greens fees.

Let them eat cake

Perhaps it's time for me to make a totally irresponsible and completely specious comparison. The stadiums.

We've all heard explanations of why we can find pots of money for stuff like this but cannot find the money to buy uniforms for a high school football team. It's very complicated (certainly much too complicated for us stupid taxpayers). The money comes out of different budgets, and it's about being a Big League City and eventual prosperity for all. OK, we bit.

Now they're working out the details. The latest hitch is that the several-hundred-million-dollar monument to football might be built not on the riverfront, but 12 blocks north in the inner city. Mike Brown is horrified.

Well, of course. Nobody wants pro football players or Bengals season ticket holders to catch a glimpse of urban blight on their way into the stadium 10 times a year. And, naturally, professional athletes don't like to get dressed in a crummy dressing room, and they hate Riverfront Stadium's fake grass.

On the other hand, let's put the brakes on runaway spending on teachers.

And how many kids are trying to learn calculus in a crummy classroom? How many have to walk to school every day with urban blight right in their faces?

How many have two parents showing up for teacher conferences? How many are carrying beepers? How many own a gun? How many of these kids have had breakfast before they leave home? How many have been invited to join a gang? (By the way, this is not like fraternity rush. They don't usually take 'No' for an answer.)

How many students have to drop their children off at a day-care center before they go to school?

In short, what kind of student arrives at the classroom?

Wrong class of teachers

Maybe I've been hanging around with the wrong class of teachers, but the ones I know are not getting rich off the taxpayers. Every time - and I mean without exception - that I visit a Cincinnati Public School, I find teachers forking over their own money for materials, working with kids on their own time and generally acting like children are their most important priority.

Remember when we were in school? When we got in trouble there, it would not have occurred to us to call our attorney. It certainly would not have occurred to us to take a swing at our teacher. Teachers used to send us to the office for chewing gum, for pete's sake. Now, our teachers have to walk through metal detectors to get to class.

We owe them. Not just money, although that would be nice. We owe them classrooms full of kids ready to learn what they have to teach. We owe them a community that respects education - and teachers. This has nothing to do with state and local regulations. It certainly has nothing to do with fat cat teachers. It is a state of mind.

And, excuse me for saying so, because I enjoy blaming somebody else as much as the next person, but it's not the fault of teachers that our children are in trouble.

It's our fault.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard on WVXU-FM (91.7) Monday mornings and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.