We’re going to give you two numbers, and you tell us which is more shocking. The first is 241 — the number of Clinton School District students at the end of the 2005-2006 school year classified as homeless or living in hotels, doubled up with other families in a home or living in a shelter.

The second number is zero — as in the number of calls, letters and Web site posts about that figure since it was printed Nov. 15 in a story about Clinton School District Superintendent Randy Clegg’s annual State of the District address.

It’s not that our readers are wholly apathetic — there were scores of letters about the Nov. 7 election, and are phones are almost ringing off the hook in regards to the Clinton Humane Society. But when Clegg got up and said Clinton ranks fifth in the state in the number of homeless students and that some parents still are actively encouraging their students to drop out of high school, it seems as if barely an eyebrow was raised.

First of all, we thank Clegg and the district for conducting this annual event during American Education Week. The State of the District address is a prime example of accountability. Clegg explains what he can about nearly everything — test scores, attendance issues, No Child Left Behind issues, security, student population and more — and then answers questions about any topic.

By putting all those cards on the table, the district hopes to have better dialogue with the entire community, not just residents who have children or other relatives enrolled in the schools. As investors in the school system via property and income taxes, we deserve to know these things, and not just if they happen to come up in the context of a school board meeting.

Clinton leads the way in the exposition of these issues, and the hope here is that people have taken note. Yet if people did read the story about the address, it appears that the shocking figures have not sparked any response. And that’s a shame.

When we see statistics about the number of homeless children or special education students — 840, or 20 percent — we immediately ask two questions. Why is it so and what can we do about it? There are no easy answers, but that’s all the more reason to dig in and fight for a solution. Problems like students not having a home or parents encouraging their students to quit go far beyond typical “fix our education system” responses like increases in teacher pay and standardized testing accountability levels.

How can we expect a fourth-grader to do well on an NCLB math test when the child has been sleeping in a car or a different home every night. And how can we expect a high school junior to worry about how well he or she performs on a reading proficiency exam if mom and dad are counting the days until dropout eligibility kicks in?

Everyone should care about these issues. Many times a community’s vitality is based almost primarily on its public schools. Parents with students who do have a home or do plan to go to college must be concerned because nagging issues like this affect the education of every child.

Issues with families are beyond the district’s control, and often beyond the state’s control. Homelessness in particular is a societal woe with many causes, often varying from family to family. But in this season of giving when the easy thing is to buy a $10 toy and give it to some local charity, we encourage readers to take time to think about larger issues.

By all means, participate in typical charitable activities, but take a moment to think about the difference between offering a short-term fix to a situation caused by a problem and really, honestly working towards a solution for the root cause itself.

Not every problem can be solved. Some are ultimately beyond repair. But apathy never cured any disease, and we’d like to see some steps taken in the right direction.

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