Push to win back dropouts
The dropout rate in the US officially hovers around 10 percent.
Chris Ahnert left high school because he figured he didn't have the credits to graduate, anyway.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Aziz Animashan left after he got kicked off the basketball team – the only thing keeping him there.
Stacy Del Real didn't want to go back to the same environment where, she says, "there were bad things happening all around me."
All three are now trying once again, at an intensive live-in program in downstate Illinois.
This fall, as America's students head back to school, there's an extra push to bring back America's dropouts as well – if not to traditional public school, then to GED programs, alternative learning centers, anything that can get them moving forward again.
Recent studies have shown that the nation's dropout rate, officially hovering around 10 percent, has been severely undercounted for years.
The high numbers – combined with research showing dropouts are far more likely to be in prison, on public assistance, or jobless – have many educators thinking about how to keep those students from ever leaving.
In addition to prevention programs, a small number of districts, counties, and organizations are reaching out to those who already have dropped out.
"This is not a new issue, but it's getting a lot more attention," says Nancy Martin, a senior program associate with the American Youth Policy Forum, and coauthor of the study: "Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth."
"With districts feeling the heat because the sheet is getting pulled off this a bit, I think there is much more interest and willingness to say, how can we keep these kids in school, and if a huge number has left school, can we really see them as having left the district's responsibility? I hope the answer is no," she says.
Dropout rates are difficult to determine, and often controversial. One recent study found that about a third of the students who started high school four years ago didn't graduate on time. Other studies have put the graduation rate around 70 percent, or as high as 80 percent. Among minorities, some studies have it around 50 percent, and some large cities graduate fewer than half of their students.
Last year, the National Governors Association adopted a resolution that would set, for the first time, a common standard for tracking graduation and reporting rates – a big step forward, experts say, although it is nonbinding. Until that happens, many districts are hesitant to try more accurate methods that might show how they're failing.
But if reporting the problem needs a common standard, educators are finding that dealing with the problem needs as many varieties as possible.
In her study, Ms. Martin found that the ones that worked best didn't try to replicate high school but offered scheduling flexibility, connections to jobs, and structure. "A lot of this is what we need for all young people," she says.
In Trenton, N.J., for instance, the Daylight/Twilight High School runs from 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night, and lets students attend in one of three four-hour sessions. There's no lunch or extracurriculars, and students get their elective credits through community service or apprenticeships.