• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Student-Rights Push Must Be Tempered With Dose of Reality"

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Student-Rights Push Must Be Tempered With Dose of Reality

September 24, 2004

By William L. Bainbridge

While performing a school-system academic audit in New Hampshire earlier this year, we learned about a policy that permitted students to evaluate their teachers. In some cases, the results were allowed to "creep" into official teacher evaluations. Some of the school-board members expressed the view that their "customers" should review teachers. They had decided that students, rather than parents or taxpayers, were the customers.

Some of the students inevitably will rate a challenging teacher as unacceptable. Years later, as students mature, many will, undoubtedly, change their minds. One former student, in one of our audited high schools, returned to his old classroom to announce that when he was in class, he hated his teacher. But when he made it to college, he said he realized the educator was simply trying to help him prepare for the rigors of higher education.

Issues involving student rights surface in many areas, including nutrition. An increasing number of school systems are following the lead of universities by entering into exclusive pouring-rights agreements with soft-drink companies. School boards agree to sell a particular brand, thus securing another source of revenue. While soda adds unneeded calories and caffeine to the diets of students, many students contend it is their "right" to have soda and potato chips for lunch. But providing non-nutritious snacks is in direct conflict with the mission of schools to promote the welfare of students. In the past 10 years, high-school studentsí consumption of soft drinks has more than tripled. When policy-makers in Texas and California banned soft drinks in vending machines, students and some parents complained of student-rights violations.

And when school districts try to enforce substance-abuse rules at off-grounds quasi-school functions, some students and parents complain of rights violations. Apart from being illegal, underage drinking poses a high risk to students, their peers and others in the community. Adolescents already are at increased risk of automobile accidents because of their lack of driving experience. Insurance records indicate the rate of alcohol-related traffic crashes is far greater for drivers ages 16 to 20 than for drivers over 21.

Adolescents commonly want to resist authority in an attempt to appear more grown-up. Tobacco manufacturers know this and try to make smoking attractive by portraying it as a forbidden "adult behavior." But when policy-makers suggest smoking should be a matter of freedom of choice, educators often remind them that youngsters are making uninformed choices for what can be a lifetime addiction.

Age-restrictive laws and school rules are in place to prevent and reduce destructive behavior by adolescents and pre-adolescents. Students are the products of a school system, not its customers. Many students are in no position to make some of the decisions being placed before them.

We need to promote student health and safety. Adolescents often express their emerging sense of independence with disrespect and a lack of consideration for others in the family or community.

Letís not allow public officials to make the adolescent maturing experience even more difficult with unrealistic expectations of sophistication at such an early age.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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