I’ve seen the statement made over the years several times: that the term “dropout” was not used prior to 1950. This implies that dropping out of school before graduation was seen as a normal course of events and that schools did not think it was necessary to do anything about it.
This may or may not be true, but what we can say with some certainty is that times have changed with respect to dropouts. The personal and societal effects of not finishing high school are well known: for individuals, lower incomes, fewer job opportunities, even shorter life expectancy. For society in general, lower productivity, lost wages, the higher cost of social service can be traced to dropouts. Each year, our nation loses $319 billion in potential earnings associated with the dropout crisis.
Yet we are still losing students at an alarming rate. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center/ Network, over the past quarter of a century the percentage of students who drop out of school each year has stayed about the same. And each school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school — a total of 1.2 million students each year — and only about 70% of entering high school freshman graduate every year.
The dropout crisis is real. President Obama called on the nation to confront it:
It is time for all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, to come together and solve this epidemic. Stemming the tide of dropouts will require turning around our low-performing schools. Just 2,000 high schools in cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia produce over 50% of America’s dropouts… Let us all make turning around our schools our collective responsibility as Americans.
The Obama administration identified four types of efforts which it believes will help the nation address this crisis. They include:
- Personalized and individualized instruction and support to keep students engaged in their learning and focused on success
- Multiple pathways and credit recovery programs, such as high-quality alternative high schools, transfer schools, or career- and work-based experiences to help students catch up and keep up academically, and to get back on track toward a high school diploma
- Better use of data and information to identify and respond to students at risk of failure, and assist with important transitions to high school and college
- Promoting a culture of college readiness. Participation in a challenging high school curriculum has a greater impact on whether a student will earn a four-year college degree than his or her high school test scores, class rank, or grades
Some communities are confronting the crisis head-on and effectively. In Scottsboro, Alabama, Dr. Judy Berry’s S.C.O.R.E. (Students Completing Official Requirements Early) Academy has been shown effective in improving graduation rates among the most at-risk segments of the population. The S.C.O.R.E. program features individualized programs for each student, an intensive academic program, high expectations, motivation, cooperation, and positive behaviors in a computer-based program designed for students who are more successful in less traditional school settings. Her program works. Students report greater confidence and a feeling of belonging they did not experience in school before S.C.O.R.E.
The dropout crisis is real, and its impact is felt all across the nation. What are some programs or other promising practices that you can share to help address the problem?