Nearly every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. While that statistic is likely overstated, the problem of high school dropouts is not. Even in the best of economic conditions high school dropouts face tremendous challenges, and those challenges are increased exponentially when the economy slows down (let alone completely stall as it has over the past 5 years).
This is why State Farm and America’s Promise Alliance came together to launch their 26 Second Campaign to encourage students to stay in school until they earn a high school diploma. Teens can head to the 26 Second Facebook page to sign a pledge as well as to take part in monthly activities to win prizes and learn more about the perils of dropping out all in an effort to promote the importance of earning a high school diploma.
I applaud State Farm and America’s Promise Alliance for encouraging students to graduate high school. All too often high school students fail to recognize the long-term impact of making such a major detrimental decision as dropping out. Without a shadow of a doubt, students would be much better off staying in school and earning a high school diploma.
But the benefits do not lie simply with the individual student. For certain, our economy and our society would be better off if fewer students dropped out of high school as well. While the decision to drop out is up to the student, schools play a vital role as well. As noted in The Center’s Keeping Kids in School report, schools can drastically reduce dropouts by:
- Identifying potential dropouts early.
- Providing those students with high quality intervention.
- Organizing the school programs to prevent students from becoming at-risk of dropping out in the first place.
- Putting in place recovery programs for those students that do slip through the cracks, which drastically reduces the number of students who would have dropped out if such programs were not in place.
By combining the 26 Second Campaign’s encouragement of individual students to graduate as well as the schools’ efforts to keep students in school, we can accelerate the gains in high school graduation rates we have seen over the past couple of years. – Jim Hull
I recently attended a briefing on Early Warning Indicator Systems (EWIS) in public schools. I find it fascinating that we can predict that a sixth grader has a 75 percent chance of dropping out of high school if they exhibit just one of these three factors:
- Poor behavior
- Poor attendance
- Failure in English or Math
Dropouts are not a problem relagated to high schools, as most future dropouts show warning signs as early as elementary and middle school. As the Center’s report Keeping Kids in School found, half of all dropouts showed warning signs by 8th grade. Now that we know this, we can target them with specialized help during transitional school years. If we wait until ninth grade, it could be too late to help, especially since a majority of dropouts leave in the ninth and tenth grades.
Three main problems have to be addressed when implementing these systems in schools. First, teachers need support. The way schools operate right now in many schools is that one teacher monitors a large group of students. For EWIS to work, this has to be flipped. A group of teachers and mentors have to discuss individual students. This can be time consuming, but some schools use outside help from mentor/volunteer programs like AmeriCorps to help understand the issues surrounding a student’s absenteeism or behavioral problems. The second problem is that in some schools, more professional social services will be needed. This can be costly, but the increased cost of more counselors, social workers, and other professionals will ultimately be returned in savings from preventing students from repeating grades or dropping out. Finally, the last problem with implementing these systems is integrating them throughout the school. Schools are organized by grades, or by subjects. To a student however, their school is the collection of teachers that they see every day. We need to organize schools so that teachers with the same students can communicate and create consistent behavior standards from classroom to classroom.
Every school should have consistent and open data on the amount of absenteeism in their schools. It may take some work, but research shows us how important it is for a student to be in school every day; not just in high school, but in elementary and middle school. - Kasey Klepfer
One of the greatest economic stimulus for our country is to increase the number of students that graduate from high school. Economic analysis by such groups as the Alliance for Excellent Education show the staggering benefit to the local and national economy that new high school graduates can provide.
With two thirds of our economy being driven by consumer spending, the benefits to raising graduation rates are tremendous. For example, if we had cut the amount of high school dropouts in half in 2011, the 650,000 additional graduates, who otherwise would have dropped out, would have a combined $7 billion increase in their annual net income and would bring in $1.8 billion in increased tax revenue. By the midpoint of their careers, there would be a $6.6 billion increase in the country’s GDP. This is only for one class! Just think if we compounded this over many years.
So, it is time we need to look at programs that keep students on-track to graduate on-time as an investment. Where taxpayer will see a return on their investment greater than any mutual fund in 1990′s. One such program, Communities in Schools (CIS), has been quite succesful in increasing the number of high school graduates at a a cost of only about $200 per student . As a matter of fact, they just released economic impact report conducted by a third party that estimated the value of the students they have helped graduate to be $2.6 billion. As a society, we have to take advantage of leveraging organizations like this one and others. With just a small upfront investment we will see benefits not only in the long run, but immediately. - Kasey Klepfer
Economic Benefits of Communities in Schools (CIS)
- $63 million every year to the disposable incomes of their graduates
- $22 million annually in increased federal and state tax revenue
- $154.4 million savings from social services every year
- Return on Investment of 18.4 percent
- For every $1 invested, CIS returns $11.60 to the taxpayers
There is good news about public high school graduation rates. On June 7th, Education Week released their annual special edition, Diplomas Count. I find it very exciting that as a nation our graduation rate increased for the second year in a row to 73.4 percent. This rise was supported by the 5.5 percentage-point rise in the Latino graduate rate from the previous year, as well as 1.7 percentage-point increase in the African-American graduation rate. I also think it is promising to see some improvement in narrowing achievement gaps, especially the dramatic 5 percentage-point decrease in the gap between White and Latino students graduating.
What is really encouraging is that we have seen real progress over the last ten or so years in our public schools. The policies and practices implemented at the local, state, and federal level over the last decade are showing results, and good news in public education is always a welcome event. Some of the best news is that the lowest performing states are doing better. This year’s report shows almost no state below a 60 percent graduation rate when there was a handful in last year’s count. Even more encouraging is the fact that three-quarters of all states saw their graduation rates improve over the previous year.
So let’s look at some of the findings from Diplomas Count:
- The national graduation rate is at 73.4 percent for the class of 2009. This is the highest rate since the 1980s, and a 1.7 percentage-point increase from 2008. (Keep in mind, the graduation rate in this report is a four-year estimate that does not take into account students who repeat 9th grade or graduate in 5 or 6 years.)
- This is the second year of increases following modest declines in 2006 and 2007.
- Over the past decade, graduation improved by 7.3 percentage-points (66 percent in 1999 to 73.4 percent in 2009).
- Three quarters of all states in 2009 showed increases in their graduation rates.
- The graduation rate of Latino students increased by 5.5 percentage-points in 2009, the largest one year gain of major population groups.
- From 57.6 percent in 2008 to 63.0 percent in 2009
- The Black-White graduation gap decreased by 1.3 percentage-points and the Hispanic-White graduation gap decreased by 5 percentage-points.
- The national leaders—New Jersey (87.4), North Dakota (85.9), Wisconsin (83.8), and Iowa (80.5)—each graduated more than 80 percent of their high school students.
- Eight states showed increases from 2008-2009 above 5.0 percentage-points.
- Nevada (14.2 percent-point increase to 59.2) District of Columbia (9.4 percentage-point increase to 52.4), New York (6.6 percentage-point increase to78.4), Utah (6.5 percentage-point increase to 78.4 percent), Florida (6.5 percentage-point increase to 70.4), North Dakota (5.7 percentage-point increase to 85.9), Rhode Island (5.6 percentage-point increase to 75.3), Arizona (5.3 percentage-point increase to 72.3)
Findings of Concern:
- Minority students are less likely to graduate than their white and Asian-American peers.
- There is a 27.4 percentage-point gap dividing Asian-American (80.5 percent) and Native American (53.1 percent) students, the groups with the highest and lowest graduation rates, respectively.
- The graduation gap between Latinos (63.0 percent) and whites (78.8 percent) is 15.8 percentage-points. The graduation gap between blacks (58.7 percent) and whites is 20.1 percentage-points.
- Males continue to graduate at a lower rate than females.
- Males are graduating at a rate of 69.6 percent and females are graduating at a rate 76.4 percent.
- Eight states showed decreases from 2008-2009 in the graduation rate greater than 3 percentage-points.
- South Dakota (9.2 percentage point decrease to 69.5), Illinois (7.6 percentage-point decrease to 71.2), Vermont (5.3 percentage-point decrease to 77.4), North Carolina (4.8 percentage-point decrease to 68.0), Maine (4.2 percentage-point decrease to 72.3), Idaho (3.5 percentage-point decrease to 72.1), Connecticut (3.2 percentage-point decrease to 76.0)
Diplomas Count also has a very useful interactive map that shows the changes in graduation rates over time, and another that maps out graduation rates by districts. For more information on how Education Week and others calculate graduation rates check out the Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates from the Center for Public Education. For another great report on students that take longer than four years to graduate, take a look at the Center’s Better Late than Never. –Kasey Klepfer
Jay Mathews over at the Washington Post thinks that Online Courses May Make Graduation Too Easy. He may be right, he may be wrong, but as the Center’s report on credit recovery programs found, unfortunately, we just don’t know. There just isn’t any research out there to determine if providing online courses to students who are behind in the credits they need to graduate will improve their chances to earn a high school diploma. And right now, there is a push to expand such programs even though there is no evidence that they work.
The same can be said for other forms of online learning such as virtual charter schools. As the Center’s upcoming report on online learning will show, there is little if any evidence that students are well served completing their education by sitting in front of a computer instead of inside a traditional classroom. While the rhetoric surrounding online learning sounds exciting and innovative, such as the prospect of students being able to work at their own pace or gaining “21st century skills,” we just don’t know if the actual impact matches the rhetoric.
One has to wonder: are students who have already fallen behind better served by working at their own pace? Will watching some lessons on a laptop create 21st century skills?
Policymakers should keep these questions in mind when considering expanding online learning in these times of extremely tight budgets. Certainly, technology can and should be used to enhance education. But blindly throwing money at anything technology-related is not the way to go in education, just as blindly investing in anything ‘dot com’ was not the way to go in the late 1990’s.
Policymakers should take a lesson from the irrational exuberance of the “dot com” craze and not go all-in in everything online learning. Instead, they should invest in those online learning tools that actually work. Doing so will both better serve students and taxpayers. – Jim Hull