Dropouts and Barn Doors

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Here’s a recent Op Ed. Piece from the Portland Press Herald. What follows are some of my quick thoughts, which I posted online. I wonder if anyone on the dropout prevention group will see it. Hopefully they will take it as I intended it to be…Respectful. Here you go…

http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/dropout-prevention-very-important-state-goal_2010-07-19.html?comments=y

Our View: Dropout prevention very important state goal
A real boost in graduation rates would give hundreds of our young adults a brighter future.

Among the most desirable educational goals the state has set is the one calling for a substantial reduction in the dropout rate for high school students. Lawmakers in Augusta passed a bill this year that called for increasing the state’s overall graduation rate to 90 percent by the end of the 2015-16 school year from the 80 percent recorded in 2006-07.

That’s a substantial challenge, because studies show there is no single reason why students stop attending school before graduation.

They include lack of parental involvement in students’ performance in school (and often in their lives in general); repeated use of drugs or alcohol; violence against fellow students or adults in the school setting or outside of it; abuse by adults, either caretakers or not; bullying by other students; and lack of involvement in their situations by teachers and administrators. And that’s only a partial list.

In addition, the dropout rate varies widely by school system and region, with some systems already meeting or exceeding the state goal and others falling far short of it.

Dropping out is a significant social problem because young adults who fail to graduate from high school become more involved with criminal activity, are more dependent on state assistance and are more likely not to have health care coverage due to sporadic work histories.

So, a 26-member group of educators and other specialists are working on creating a program listing the most effective techniques for keeping kids from leaving school. They are due to submit their recommendations to the state by Nov. 1, with a report to the Legislature due by Jan. 10, 2011.

It’s an important task, and that report will deserve serious consideration and thoughtful implementation. Many students’ futures depend on it.

Here’s my thoughts…
A gentle reminder to the 26 member group…Closing the barn door on the dropout rate must happen before students head for the door. Just as planning for important life events begins well before they occur, planning for successful graduation must begin well before commencement. Two recent national research studies about high school graduation by the ACT and Johns Hopkins as well as Maine’s own Bright Futures report indicate this must happen by 8th grade and earlier. They echo over 3000 studies in the past 30 years indicating the absolute need for a high quality, comprehensive middle grades experience to ensure overall success in high school and beyond. ACT’s study, “The Forgotten Middle” states that success in middle grades is THE most significant indicator of high school success…more significant than type of courses, including AP or remedial courses. Success in grades 6-8 is more significant than academic or personal counseling that takes place in grades 9-12. I’m sure the planning group includes members who are well acquainted with these three documents as well as the extensive research surrounding effective middle grades. I look forward to seeing how the plan incorporates strategies for implementing comprehensive effective middle grades programs and practices in Maine schools to engage and keep all students in school until they graduate.

As Fred would say…That’s my opinion…I welcome yours!

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One Response to “Dropouts and Barn Doors”

  1. Mary Callan Says:

    I agree with your thoughts on this matter, Chris. As I talk with educators (and parents) from around the country, it seems that the middle school years are viewed as a place to pause, where nothing important happens, before the really important high school years. What we know is that if we don’t pay very close, quality attention to kids during this period, especially those likely to drop out, they may walk through the doors of the high school but they are not likely to leave with an education or a diploma. I wonder what evidence the designers of Race to the Top used to develop their plan to target this vulnerable group? I don’t see research playing a role in federal policy and programs so why would it happen at the State level? In the past, Maine was known nationally for its clear focus on doing what is right for kids. Data everywhere (Kids Count, for example) is indicating that our state no longer demonstrates the courage to go against what is being promoted from “out there”, even if we know it is not the right thing to do. How can we regain that courage that we once had?

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