Only blacks can teach black history, say a group of parents of Oberlin High School (search) students. Due to a scheduling conflict, the black teacher who's taught the course for seven years may not be able to handle it this year. A white teacher may take over the class.

Phyllis Yarber Hogan, a member of the Oberlin Black Alliance for Progress (search), said a white teacher wouldn't be well-suited to teaching students about subjects like slavery.

"When you talk about slavery, students need to understand it is not our fault," she said. "Our ancestors did nothing wrong to be enslaved.

"How do you work through that when the person teaching it is the same type of person who did the enslaving?"

I sure hope Oberlin High doesn't let non-whites teach European history. For that matter, with black history removed to a separate class, U.S. history should be taught by white teachers, preferably white males whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower (search). Segregation forever!

Gay High

Speaking of segregation, New York City is opening a gay high school. It's an expansion of an alternative program for gay (and bisexual and transgender) students who'd otherwise feel unsafe and unwanted. Harvey Milk High School (search) will specialize in computer technology, arts and cooking. The school will be open to straight students, but don’t expect any to apply.

Gay teen-agers often drop out of high school to escape abuse, and they have high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, high-risk behavior and suicide. It would be better to make all schools safe for gays, but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

I wonder if the Milk staff will be all gay. The new principal used to work at Brooklyn Automotive, but, well, who knows?

Push-outs

Bad students are pushed out of New York City high schools, reports the New York Times. That raises test scores and graduation rates, while hiding the extent of academic problems. The official drop-out rate of 20 percent could be more like 25 to 30 percent if students sent to GED programs were included.

In many ways, Cynthia Boachie is typical of the pushouts. She was 17 when a counselor told her she could no longer attend De Witt Clinton High School. She had been in one too many fights, and missed one too many classes.

The repetition of "one" is deceptive. She was in more than one fight and cut more than one class; her academic skills are so low that she's years away from earning a GED (search). But the Times would have preferred she stay at DeWitt, where she thought she was “doing OK."

Andres Paez, 18, was advised to move on after four years at John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, where, because of frequent absences, he had accumulated only enough credits to be considered a sophomore.

"They said you're not making it, and no matter how hard you work, you're not going to make it, so there's no point in your trying anymore," Mr. Paez said.

Mr. Paez moved from the huge high school building to the equivalency class in the red trailer out back -- a program open only to those with relatively good math and reading skills. Those who get an equivalency diploma in such programs are counted as graduates of the school, just like those who get Regents diplomas.

Mr. Paez did well there. He started the class in February and got his certificate in April. Still, he said, if anyone had told him that he could have stayed in school longer and gotten a Regents diploma, he probably would have done so.

"I didn't know you could stay in school until you were 21," said Mr. Paez, who is looking for a job.

Raise your hand if you think Paez could have earned a Regents diploma (search). Anyone? Raise your hand if you think it's too bad he didn't stay in high school till he turned 21.

Of course, there's a shell game going on here. Principals have an incentive to count drop-outs as transfers and to get trouble-making truants off campus. But the story's premise -- students should stay in mainstream high schools even if they're not attending, behaving or learning -- is crazy. They wouldn't graduate; they'd just make it harder for teachers to teach and for other students to learn. What the district needs is better record-keeping and better alternative programs.

Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children (search), thinks more students would earn a diploma if they were encouraged to stay in high school till they turned 21. She envisions saying, “You won't be able to graduate in four years, but you have seven years, so let's talk about a long-term plan that will give you the enrichment and services you need to help you get to graduation.”

Seven years in high school. Yes, low-achieving truants will go for that.

Perhaps New York City will build married student housing for its permanent students, as Scrappleface suggests.

Songs Never Sung

In previewing a Human Development textbook, Bernard Chapin came across a peculiar line: “As a folksinger once sang, how many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult.”

Of course, it should be: "How many roads must persons of all races, colors, creeds, ability levels and sexual identities walk or roll down before they can catch the electric-powered, wheelchair-accessible bus?" (The answer: 37.)

Letters

Mike Martin of El Centro, Calif.

I often wonder when citizens and our elected officials will get the clue that money does not buy a quality education. It takes concerned, involved parents who, individually and as a group, are critical and vocal, ensuring teachers and school officials are giving their students the best possible education.

I am equally vocal with my 3-year-old's pre-school and my 15-year-old's high school. I insist on knowing why they are doing what they do, and what the standard curriculum is. I also insist they teach academics and vocational skills, not babysit or entertain. No amount of money or school vouchers can compensate for that.

The schools will teach if parents force them to. Take the time for your kids, pay attention and know what they are doing in school and out of school.  That is 90 percent of the battle involved in turning good kids into spectacular, intelligent adults.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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