The real problem with Nevada's dropout rate

Over the years I've been known to cause more than a few jaws to drop and elicit audible gasps during editorial board meetings with educators, lawmakers and/or community activists who come in and declare our school system has a dropout rate problem.

With which I hastily and heartily agree: Yes, it is not nearly high enough.

We need to oust the malingers, miscreants, goof-offs and gang-bangers who are nothing but seat warmers, at best, and, at worst, a distraction or a danger to teachers and the majority of students who wish to actually carry out the school system's mission of obtaining a reasonable level of education for those who wish to become contributing members of a civil society. Turn the rest out into the real world to face a lifetime of menial, minimum-wage labor until some of them realize the value of education and gladly pay for it themselves.

It seems there are a few teachers who might agree.

Take the high school English teacher from suburban Philadelphia who was suspended for posting on her personal Internet blog disparaging remarks about some of her students.

In one posting, 30-year-old Natalie Munroe wrote, "My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

Munroe's blog, written for friends and family and only occasionally mentioning her job frustrations, did not use her full name, nor her school or students' names. When it was brought to the attention of the school administration by some students, she was suspended with pay.

A little closer to home, take Patrick Tobin, a 40-year-old former high school teacher of sophomore English, who resigned after a semester at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas. He said he had frequent and recurring problems with a few students that no one seemed to be able to rectify -- such minor annoyances as students tersely instructing him to perform anatomically impossible feats of physical contortion.

"When I spoke to the dean about it," Tobin said, "he indicated that they have drug investigations and fight investigations that they are constantly doing, and the little things that are happening in the class that are disrupting learning for every student are kind of on the back burner. I'm not going to disagree with that position, however it really seemed like they said, 'Well, we've got bigger things to deal with than your problems in your classroom.'"

He said he would refer problem students to the deans, but would often have them back in his class the next day causing similar disturbances. Then other students, seeing nothing was done to discipline anyone, would adopt a similar attitude.

Canyon Springs' enrollment is 93 percent minority students, with 50 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, and among all Clark County high schools is near the bottom in proficiency in reading, writing and math.

Tobin, who has about six years of classroom teaching experience on the California side of Lake Tahoe and in Carson City, said he had similar discipline problems in other schools, perhaps once a month, but they were dealt with. At Canyon Springs, he said he might spend 10 to 20 minutes a day in a 55-minute class dealing with problems. "It was very negatively affecting the classroom."

Another teacher Tobin worked with had a term for the problems he was experiencing: "toxic teaching environment." Asked why other teachers seemed to tolerate the environment while he could not, Tobin said, "One of them joked that he had a house payment, and I didn't."

I tried to talk to Tobin's supervisor at Canyon Springs, a woman he called "one of the hardest-working people I ever met in education," but the call was returned by an administrator in the central office who said Tobin had trouble and left after less than a semester.

Maybe Tobin and Munroe just have too low a tolerance level for youthful exuberance and attitude, but perhaps, just perhaps, the dropout rate is not high enough, and the enrollment in the behavioral high schools is too low.

If the objective is education, why tolerate distractions?

Thomas Mitchell is senior opinion editor of the Review-Journal. He may be contacted at (702) 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@