Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Efforts to Stem Dropouts

Sorry things have been slow on the posts this week -- things have been getting busier for me at work lately, and I find that the authorial mind is best at producing ideas in whatever are one's mind has been on the most, which for me has been politics lately, resulting in lots of American Catholic posts, but few here.

There was an interesting article earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal about big cities attempt to stem the rising tide of high school dropouts:
According to one study, only half of the high school students in the nation's 50 largest cities are graduating in four years, with a figure as low as 25% in Detroit. And while concern over dropouts isn't new, the problem now has officials outside of public education worried enough to get directly involved.
"In a global economy, the single most important issue facing our country is an educated work force," says Houston Mayor Bill White. "Somebody who lacks a high school education will have lifetime earnings that are only about 60% of those of somebody with that education. That's just the impact on personal income. There are the social costs as well."
Detroit has the lowest four-year graduation rate in the study, at 25%, according to America's Promise. Officials there are revamping the high schools. So far, the school system has started a high school redesign at five sites. Among the steps being taken are better counseling services and efforts to design curricula at schools in particular locations geared to industries in the same area.

"The number of students are falling away at such a large percentage that you can't point to any one factor or any one solution," says Steve Wasko, spokesman for the school system.

Houston has embarked on a wide-ranging plan, including a program called Reach Out to Dropouts, where volunteers, including Mayor White and school superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, visit the homes of students who haven't returned to school.
Several things struck me reading this:

  • It's rather inspiring, in a way, to hear about officials right up to the mayor of a major city taking these issues seriously enough to invest the personal time and effort in going door to door -- though the businessman side of my mind can't help wondering if that's the most effective use of the mayor's time when it comes to reducing dropout rates.

  • I suppose I'd be considered a wishful thinker in regards to education -- especially considering the dire straights that many in Detroit and similar cities must already be in by the time they arrive in high school -- but I can think of few prospect more likely to inspire in one the desire to drop out (out of sheer boredom if for no other reason) than a curriculum geared to my local industries. Idealist that I am -- I can't help thinking that the best way to keep people in school is to teach them something interesting.

  • To college-educated-America, this must be a nearly invisible problem. I recall being shocked to read that nearly seventy percent of Americans do not have a BA or above. If you'd asked me before, I would have guessed that half of Americans had completed college.


Anonymous said...

Well, I don't have a BA either. I gots me a Bs. :-) I assume you are classifying BA & BS together?

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Here in Texas, the overall graduation rate is 33%. The dropout rate (i.e. failing to graduate from high school within 5 years) is 60% for black students and 75% for hispanic students.

The best way to keep hispanic students, at least, from dropping out has turned out to be giving them a way to work while in school, reducing the pressure to drop out and help support their families (this is the premise of St. Juan Diego High School in Austin, where every student is an intern).

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

My apologies; things aren't quite that bad. The failure to graduate rates I cited above are from Brazos City. The state-wide dropout rates are about 25% for anglo students, 45% for black students, and over 50% for hispanic students.

"But," you say, "the Texas Education Agency says the dropout rate statewide is less than 3%!" This is because "dropout" means "left school with no reason." Students who leave for a reason--pregnant, jailed, moving (but fail to re-enroll in a new school)--or who leave but say they intend to get a GED--aren't counted as "dropouts." That's why the numbers you want to look at are "failure to graduate."

(Years ago, when Houston was having the "Texas Miracle" and AISD schools were trying some of the same squirrelly stunts, the contact persons for Austin Area Homeschoolers would get many phone calls from parents of problem students wanting to know where they dropped off their kids to be homeschooled. Seems the schools would advise the parents of problem students to unenroll their children and homeschool them instead.)

Daddio said...

I also like the idea of a "curriculum geared to my local industries". In other words, maybe if teenagers thought their diploma would qualify them for a good job, they'd be more willing to stick it out. That's why we need more shop classes, instead of putting everyone on the "college track". I seem to remember some sort of "work release" early dismissal at our high school. I never understood what it was for, as it never occured to me that kids my age were having to get part time fast food jobs to help their parents pay the rent. Maybe they could intern at a local factory, and know that upon graduation they'd be bumped from $7 an hour to $10 and hour. There should also be some incentive for the businesses involved. Maybe payroll tax breaks for those employees who are students in the work/study program. It seems like one or two full-time counselors assigned to a program like that could administer it pretty well, keeping track of the students' academic progress as well as making sure their attendance at work was consistent.
At the end of the day, the home schooling conservative in me says that parenting is the parents' job and schools need to stay out of it. But the fact is, most of those kids essentially do not have parents. Maybe a single mom who barely knows what they're doing because she also works 80 hours a week. The cost to society convinces me to allow the schools to intervene in family life as long as their limits are respected.