This week I've been blogging about the bleak numbers that surround the national high school dropout rate and examining more closely the underlying causes. Many of society's other problems - like unemployment, poverty and overcrowded prisons - can all be linked back to the individual decision to quit high school. It seems that this one factor is an indicator of other difficulties throughout the dropout's life and it has a negative impact on society as a whole.
If we know that earning a high school diploma is the first step to a better life then that is a starting point for focus. So what can be done to increase the percentage of high school graduates?
Involvement from the business community
The economic impact of high school dropouts cannot be denied. As I mentioned Wednesday, the nation as a whole will miss out on an estimated $154 billion in income over the lifetimes of the dropouts from the Class of 2011. From a business perspective, this is a missed opportunity. There is money to be made and an economic boost is possible - but only if these students stick around long enough to obtain a high school diploma, and potentially seek out college opportunities. Georgia is a great example of a state that has taken advantage of the business community to help improve graduation rates. Areas like Atlanta Metro have some of the strongest business leaders in the nation, and school officials have begun to call on them for guidance and funding when it comes to improving graduation rates.
The report Building a Grad Nation 2012 found that between 2002 and 2010, Georgia showed high school graduation rate improvement from 61 to 68 percent, in part because of involvement from the business community. In that eight-year span, the number of "dropout factories" (schools with 60 percent or lower graduation rates) fell from 1,634 to 1,550. Making graduation numbers an issue of economic stability, and having backup from business leaders, is just one step toward reducing dropout numbers.
Further support outside the classroom
As discussed already, risk factors for dropouts include coming from low-income or single-parent families. Teachers simply cannot address the academic and emotional needs of every student within normal class time, so programs need to be in place for students who are at risk for dropping out. A pilot program in San Antonio called Communities in Schools has set out to accomplish this through offering on-campus counseling services for students on the fence about dropping out. The program offers a listening ear for whatever the students may need to talk about, from lack of food or anxiety about family financial woes. Of the students in the program in the 2012 - 2013 school year, 97 percent obtained a high school diploma instead of dropping out. While students can certainly talk about their studies, the main point of the program is not academic. It is simply a support system to encourage students who may be facing life obstacles to keep pushing forward to finish high school. These programs are often what students need to feel accountability toward the community as a whole and also worthiness for a high school diploma.
Earlier education for all
Much of the attack on the dropout rate happens when teens are already at a crossroads. In truth, the learning and social experiences they have from birth influence their attitudes about education, society and their own lives. Perhaps the dip in dropout rates in the past four decades hinges on another statistic: from 1980 to 2000, the number of four-year-old children in the U.S. enrolled in preschool programs rose from half to over two-thirds. Pre-K learning is only an academic right (free of charge) in 40 states and in 2012, total funding for these programs was slashed by $548 million. Instead of putting money where it belongs - upfront, at the beginning of a K-12 career - lawmakers could be contributing to a higher dropout rate, and economic cost, in future decades. It's time to stop making the high school dropout issue something that is confronted in the moment; prevention, as early as pre-K learning, is a long-term solution.
What do you think? What is the solution to the high school dropout crisis?