Education, Graduation and Dropping Out

We had the great joy to watch our youngest son graduate from college last year around this time.  What a proud moment!  As I sat listening to the student speaker offer congratulations and words of encouragement, I looked around at all the proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and thought, “wow.”  While it goes without saying Jim and I feel very fortunate to have been blessed with such great sons, it has to be said our boys, many of their friends, peers and fellow graduates are also fortunate.  They are fortunate to live in a time, a country and a society where they have countless opportunities; from the look of all in attendance, they also have a great many supporters.  A little while later, as I sat listening to a politician deliver a very boring commencement speech, my thoughts shifted to dropout rates.  While my curiosity began with wondering how many young adults start college only to drop out, it quickly moved to how many never even get that far but instead drop out of high school.  As the politician ended his speech, I decided to table those thoughts until Monday morning when I could do some research…

According to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were about 3 million high school dropouts in October 2008 – that was 8 percent of all high school students. Based on data provided by the Current Population Study (CPS), this number is an estimate of the percentage of both private and public high school students, ages 15-24, who dropped out of grades 10-12 between October 2007 and October 2008 (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011012.pdf).

While it is encouraging to see that statistic is significantly down from the 14 percent dropout rate recorded in 1980, it is discouraging to note that, according to research conducted by the Center for Social Organization of Schools of Johns Hopkins University, half of this country’s dropouts drop out of just 12 percent of the nations’ high schools (http://web.jhu.edu/CSOS/about.html).

My research took me from one website to another, each site filled with statistics and facts.  And, as I do with most statistical websites, I finally had to say, “STOP!!”  It was so much information to digest.  So, to the important question of how we can use all that statistical information…are there any actions to be taken?  While I found as many opinions as websites to answer that question, the National Education Association (NEA) suggested what I thought was the most simple and straight-forward approach (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/dropoutguide1108.pdf ).   Their recommendation is to focus action in the following ways:

1. Intervene prior to Kindergarten;
2. Involve families in students’ learning;
3. Provide students with individual attention;
4. Monitor students to track their academic progress;
5. Involve the community in dropout prevention;
6. Provide educators with the training and resources they need to prevent students from dropping out;
7. Implement career and workforce readiness programs in schools;
8. Provide graduation options for students;
9. Raise the compulsory school attendance age;
10. Open graduation centers for students who are 19–21 years of age;
11. Gather and report accurate dropout rates;
12. Increase federal funding to support dropout prevention.

While I looked around at all those proud families and graduates at commencement, I realized not only was I proud of our son, but proud of our nation’s thirst for education.  We were all fortunate to instill the drive in our children to attain a higher education so that they can make a difference in our world.  I was sad to think about those students who dropped out before they could achieve their fullest academic potential.  These children are also fortunate to live in a country that affords them great opportunities for education and success.  It is so important that we do our part as a society to keep them in school and focused on the importance of their education.  Let’s continue to reduce those dropout rates…great minds shouldn’t be left uneducated!

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt