Sean Slade

Confronting Dropping Out

This week, National Public Radio (NPR) is running a series called School's Out: America's Dropout Crisis. It outlines several key groups and kids at risk of dropping out.

It could as easily be renamed, "We know the problem; why don't we do something about it?"

Here are some of the statistics used in the series:

  • There are approximately 1,300 kids in Baltimore who are homeless, living in shelters, or "with a sick, troubled parent."
  • These students are more likely to miss school due to their unstable lives.
  • If students miss more than 20 to 50 days of school in a school year, they are more likely than not to drop out.
  • Approximately 45 percent of Baltimore school children drop out.
  • A fifth of the nation's public school students attend rural schools, but nearly a third of those kids don't graduate.
  • Many schools that researchers have labeled "dropout factories" are in rural communities.
  • Of the million or so students who drop out of school every year, nearly half are girls. They drop out for the same reasons boys do: they skip school, fall behind academically, and they're bored. But the single biggest reason girls drop out is because they get pregnant.
  • Forty-one percent of Latinas drop out of school because they get pregnant.
  • Almost 4 million students start 9th grade every year. One in four won't graduate.
  • About half of those who drop out every year are black. Most will end up unemployed and, by their mid-30s, 6 out of 10 will have spent time in prison.
  • The unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is nearly twice that of the general population.
  • Over a lifetime, a high school dropout will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate and almost $1 million less than a college graduate.
  • Only 7 percent of dropouts 25 and older have ever made more than $40,000 a year.
  • Dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, become teenage parents, live in poverty, and commit suicide.
  • Dropouts cost federal and state governments hundreds of billions of dollars in lost earnings, welfare, and medical costs and billions more for dropouts who end up in prison.

"In communities like East Baltimore, every child in your class is at risk. You don't know what they have to go through to come to school every day. You have to keep encouraging them and checking on them, and that's the toughest thing for some of our kids."
—Tench Tilgman Elementary/Middle School Principal Jael Yon

There is a human cost, a societal cost, and a moral imperative for us to act when we know what the problems are. As James Comer of Yale University states, "If the school can compensate for the disruptive or troublesome culture that the child comes out of, the school can create a culture that can really overcome problems that children have, and even help families get on their feet."

It's worth tuning in to this series.

Comments (1)

Beth Decker

September 24, 2011

We need to wake up when it comes to the future of our children!
Our education system MUST be a focal point for righting this country however, almost everywhere you look or listen, people are just talking, researching, reporting and talking about POLICY that can change all this. ALMOST none of that is producing DO-ABLE, concrete options that address this issue.
For decades now, we, as parents and teachers, keep trying to urge more and more kids into the college tunnel. We know intuitively, if not from life experience or data, that more education improves earning potential AND that middle class jobs that require post-secondary education are rising while blue-collar jobs are shrinking.
So few are coming out the other end (30%) even though nearly 75% of our young adults are entering colleges.
CLEARLY, we are missing some skill building AND knowledge bases that can give the motivation and abilities needed to make it through with degrees.
As a teacher and mother, I became so concerned with this over a decade ago that I started trying to figure out how to build a bridge between what schools/can and should offer to better prepare our kids to taking the reigns of their life as adults.
I started in my classroom (and my dining room table with my own tweens and their friends) asking honest questions, gathering TONS of research and listening to it all. I realized quickly we have a HUGE gap in our system created by a changing world/technology, snail pace of education reform, hands off parenting of teens, changing population, etc. We do NOTHING systematically or concretely to help teens gain the information needed to understand WHY high school can no longer be enough and HOW education impacts their future options and WHAT they want to do with their lives.
The outcome of my decade long obsession and work with thousands of teens AND parents is a workbook project, called Get totally Real! a journey of self-discovery and life planning for 21st century teenagers.
We have to stop talking, finger pointing and waiting for schools to do the work that the entire country must do to create successful adults. As we wait and look to politicians and policy makers to fix this suffocating dinosaur of education, we are losing MILLIONS of our future adults to apathy and lack of focus.
I know I am just one parent/teacher with one tool, but I know that it is working for my students and many others.

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