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Monday, May 14, 2012

Helpful Directions or Forced Starts

Helpful Directions or Forced Starts:
Summertime Student Travel

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

A college student from downstate Michigan, I once took a trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and got lost.  This was prior to global positioning systems. All I had was a map, not even a detailed atlas.  I was off the beaten path.

Eventually, with the help of some well-meaning locals, I was back on a county highway, on the way to my favorite destination, Lake of the Clouds near the Porcupine Mountains. 

What was interesting about this experience is that in my getting back on track, the locals didn’t require me to start again from my hometown in the Lower Peninsula.  Thank goodness.

You’re probably wondering, “Why would they make me do that?” 

Well, if they are products of American public school system, this is what they have learned.

When students lose their way and find themselves off track, do we require them to start over again, rather than continue? Quite often, as most students who receive 59% in courses (i.e. -- have gone 59% toward their intended destinations) must take them over again.  They must start again in the Lower Peninsula.

It’s not as if they got 0%.  It’s not as if they mastered none of the content.  This all takes place in an America where batting averages of 50% are considered “OK” … where elections at 51% are won (some through a plurality, even less).

Why then in education do results lower than 60% oftentimes require a forced start, rather than a continued journey? For those reading who are saying, “Not in our neighborhood,” thank you. 

It’s early-to-mid May.  The school year is not yet over.  We probably can identify those students who are going to end-up scoring less than 60% in our classes. My request is that we offer continued journeys for these students, rather than forced starts.   How about 2 – 3 week extensions of the school year for students who are willing to shore-up some of the competencies that are holding them back (or for those who at minimum, begrudgingly comply)?

Let us envision this year’s summer season, not as a credit-recovery clearinghouse, but as a targeted, skill-development laboratory -- certainly, not as a “vacation” when some are lost.

Can we individualize our students’ summer journeys toward their intended destinations, based on where they veered from their paths, rather than through a blanketed approach?  Can we be the well-meaning locals?

This year, if students are headed to the Porcupine Mountains, let’s not require that they return to the Lower Peninsula to find their way.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages your comments and hopes that you will let him know the relevance of this blog by offering thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions on this site or by contact him at (812) 237-8624 or by writing to

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