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Where Intervention is a Must! Get rid of dropout factories - Friday, June 10, 2011

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June 10, 2011


Where Intervention is a Must!

Get rid of dropout factories



Louisiana’s current high school graduation rate is 67.4 %, which according to the U.S. Department of Education places the state 47th in the nation. Louisiana goal of 80% graduation by 2014 is ambitious.  The latest reports reveals that the drop-out rate for all Louisiana schools improved by 28%. Still Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of high school students who drop out each year.  Rank ordering of anything is but one way to view any topic, and not always the best.  The percentage of drop-outs in grades 9-12 in Louisiana for 2009-10 was 4.6% down from 6.3% the prior year.


Education Week revealed that over 10 years through 2006, Louisiana’s graduation rate improved by 7.8%.  To achieve the rate reduction of 12.6% by 2014 would require an unprecedented acceleration of the change rate.  Such a change cannot be expected from a "just "keep-on keeping-on” policy. 


Current high school population numbers 184,000 students.  To achieve the targeted promotion rate of 95% of today’s ninth graders moving up to 10th is the challenge.  In the past the majority of students who dropped out were those who never made it to the 10th grade.  More than 10% of those students can be found in "drop-out factories”—schools where at least 40% of 9th grade students fail to reach 12th grade in three years.  Louisiana contains as many as 45 such high schools.  There are 434 high schools in Louisiana.  That amounts to over 10%. 


It is imperative that public school policy makers grasp the importance of these numbers.  Three-quarters of state prison inmates are dropouts, as are 59% of federal inmates. In fact, dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated in their lifetime. The cost of supporting inmates is upwards of $35,000 per inmate per year. 


Only about 55% of drop-outs are gainfully employed compared with more than 75% of graduates.  The estimated lifetime revenue loss for male dropouts, nationally, amounts to nearly a trillion dollars.  The cost to the public for crimes and welfare benefits as a result of student drop-outs has been estimated to be $24 billion annually.  Attacking the drop-out problem, it can be seen, would result in reduced costs for food stamps, housing assistance and temporary aid for needy families by about $10.8 billion nationwide.  Clearly a cost/benefit analysis of hiking the priority for drop-out prevention spending leans heavily toward the benefit side of the equation. 


Louisiana’s Dropout Early Warning System (DEWS) provides school board members with warnings of potential drop-outs as early as the sixth grade.  Most drop-outs happen in the eighth and ninth grades necessitating at least two years to steer children back on the path to educational achievement.  Signs that can be tracked in the DEWS system include:


            Student absenteeism 10% of the days they have been enrolled;

            Excessive tardiness;

            Grade Point Average of 1.00 or less;

            Drop in GPA at least a half point, or being overage for their grade level


School board policy which aims in accomplishing the state goal for drop-out rate reduction and graduation rate increases must place a high priority on the school and community perspective, with emphasis on early interventions, insuring that basic core strategies are focused in the classroom and making the most of instruction time .  Students are part of a school community but they are also part of the community outside of the school grounds.  Effective schools are an integral part of the community and, as a result, should have strong business and community support.  Attendance and truancy issues are community problems, not just school problems.  Improvement of these aspects to maintain adequate seat time is a fundamental need that school board members should track closely.


The DEWS system provides early identification of poor attendance patterns so boards must insure that families and correctional authorities are engaged and made aware when their student strays.  Pre-K education has been found to play an important role in establishing literacy development which helps keep students involved in reaching grade level expectations.  Mentoring and tutoring programs, alternative schooling, extended-day and extended week, and well run alternative schooling for troubled youths each have been proven effective in contributing to the goal of enhanced graduation rates.


Effective professional development for faculty, staff and for policy makers is perhaps the key to accelerating achievement of the graduation rate.  Educational technology that is used to its fullest capability can foster individualized and viral instruction.  A small black board used as nothing more than the old chalkboard must be seen as a lost opportunity.  Use of technology which involves students with one another in the learning process is the seed bed for viral learning – student to student transference of knowledge.  Such technology, properly used by a highly trained teacher, provides far greater opportunity for individualized instruction needed to deter students from dropping out.


School board opposition to unfunded mandates and budget reductions can better be defended when local policy can demonstrate the clear benefits of alternatives outweighing their costs.  School board policy is the very foundation for vision and achievement in this important aspect of local public education.  Are Louisiana school boards, individually, viewing this among their highest of priorities?  If not, then superintendents, district staff, and principals might be treating the subject as simply part of the routine.  Only by assessing progress accountability on a frequent and regular basis can a school board insure that its schools are doing the best they can to achieve a "Mission Impossible” goal by 2014.


Don Whittinghill



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