NO PASSING, NO DRIVING
January 16, 1997
Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago reports on a new Illinois law that links driver's licenses to students' performance.
DRIVER'S ED INSTRUCTOR: Between the lines. Keep it between the lines. Good job. Keep coming. Keep coming.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It was a cold late afternoon in Chicago. A light snow made the pavement slippery, but that didn't matter to these young drivers. It was the first night behind the wheel in their high school driver education course.
DRIVER'S ED INSTRUCTOR: Put it in park. Be careful. Good job.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: They were on their way to getting what most teen-agers value highly, a driver's license.
DARRON JOHNSON, Student: A driver's license is a big thing to, you know, us because once you get your driver's license, it shows freedom kind of, and it also gives you the ability to go places, you know, without having to bug your parents about it, or, you know, having to take the bus there. So it's a lot of responsibility too.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Concerned with high failure and dropout rates in the Chicago public schools--44 percent of Chicago's high school students dropped out last year--Illinois legislators decided to take advantage of kids' strong desire for a license.
DRIVER'S ED INSTRUCTOR: Now we want to look left, right, and left again, slowly pull out. There you go out. Go hand over hand to your right, hand over hand to your right. To your right. To your right, honey. To your right. Relax. Relax. Good job.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Legislators signed off on the "no pass-no drive" law. Kids in Illinois have to pass eight courses in two semesters, or they can't take the driving portion of Driver's Education, thus, no license. The head of Driver's Education for the Chicago public schools likes the new law.
ROBERT MILLER, Driver Education Administration: Most students want their license, and that's an incentive to do better in school, you know, hold back the license until you pass eight course. I think that's a great incentive.
DARRON JOHNSON: I'm working hard to make sure--I mean, I'm not borderline but I like to make sure, be assured that I'm getting my driver's license.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Darron Johnson is a sophomore at Bogan Public High School in the far Southwest side of Chicago. At Bogan reading and math scores are below state and national averages. And 13 percent dropped out last year. The school adopted a uniform policy this year. Principal Linda Pierzchalski says that plus the "no pass-no drive" policy, new last year, has begun to make a difference.
LINDA PIERZCHALSKI, High School Principal: In June it did make a difference overall. There were fewer failures than there had been the previous year.
SPOKESMAN: Do you want me to get a list of the driver ed classes who have failed eight or more subjects?
OTHER SPOKESMAN: Yes. Let's get a list of--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: At Bogan, the process begins in the programmer's office. The day we were there programmers were getting ready to identify kids who would not be able to get their driver's license.
LINDA PIERZCHALSKI: How are you?
SPOKESMAN: Good. Maybe you can handle this. This is the driver ed problem, and I don't know you're going to--maybe you want it in front of the whole class so everybody knows about it? I'm not sure what the best way to--
LINDA PIERZCHALSKI: No. I think we'll take ‘em down to Mr. Kilcoyne's office.
SPOKESMAN: Okay. Whatever.
LINDA PIERZCHALSKI: --to come down and take ‘em one by one. I hate to do it in front of the class. You know--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Counselor Ed Kilcoyne was given the unpleasant task of telling kids they wouldn't be able to get their license.
ED KILCOYNE, Counselor: Do we have Clifford Edwards?
ED KILCOYNE: Let me see him a moment.
ED KILCOYNE: Cliff Edwards. Cliff. Come on with me a second, please.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Sophomore Cliff Edwards was pulled out of the classroom portion of his driver's ed class. In Illinois, driver's education is required for graduation whether or not the student qualifies to take the driving portion of the class, which enables them to get their license.
ED KILCOYNE: Now, this was from last year, and it indicated here that you had failed one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine semesters. Okay. Now, the law in the state of Illinois now says you have to pass eight semesters in order for you to get your permit.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Do you think it's fair?
CLIFF EDWARDS, Student: Yeah. It's fair. I mean, I should have done my work last year.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Are you going to try do it differently this time?
CLIFF EDWARDS: Yes.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Sophomore Firsa Asfur also got the bad news. Asfur didn't think there was anything fair about the new law.
FIRSA ASFUR, Student: I already got my car. I just need my license. That's it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Counselor Kilcoyne thinks withholding a license is a great way to motivate students, but he concerned about what not getting a license might mean to students like Asfur.
ED KILCOYNE: It's just almost like playing sports in school. Some kids come solely to school to play sports, and when they don't pass, they have a--they're really reluctant to come to school, and sometimes you may lose students.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But you're saying some kids come to school just to get their driver's license?
ED KILCOYNE: Oh, yes, definitely, definitely.
DRIVER'S ED INSTRUCTOR: You did great today. You did really well. You really improved from last week. Do you have the keys?
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The head of driver's education at Bogan also has some concerns about the new law.
JAMES ARTESE, Driver Education Teacher: The big drawback I see if they can't take driver education, are they not going to drive? I'm not so sure they're--they're not out there driving illegally, with no driver education.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Illinois is the only state where a student's license can be suspended if they don't pass. But 15 other states have state laws that say a student's license can be suspended for poor attendance. Illinois has such legislation pending. Principal Pierzchalski hopes Illinois will join other states in suspending licenses for poor attendance.
LINDA PIERZCHALSKI: It's difficult for them to adjust to high school. And sophomore year, I kind of call it the terrible twos. They have a tendency to try everything and take a lot of time off from school. So if their license was suspended because of attendance, I think we'd see a big difference in the average daily attendance of students, which would also lead to passing more classes.
JAMES ARTESE: We're fearful of overkill.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Which would mean?
JAMES ARTESE: That means now the kid's a junior in high school, and he has a driver's license, and he misses ten days, you say, okay, you've missed ten days of school this semester, we're going to have your license revoked. The guy's been driving a year. Now you tell that kid he can't drive anymore? He'll still drive.
DRIVER EDUCATION TEACHER: (in car with student) Keep coming. Keep coming. Keep coming. Watch that stop sign.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: For now, Illinois students just have to worry about passing eight courses in order to get a license. The students here say that's enough motivation.