One size fits none. We’ve all had that experience at some point. Yet, except for a choice of a few electives, that is what many of our schools and school districts offer high school students. One size (big!), one pace, one schedule. The result is that we lose far too many students to high school dropout. The most recent four-year graduation rate data, for the 2010-11 school year, show that rates by state range from a high of 88% in Iowa, to a low of 59% in the District of Columbia. (http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state.html) For economically disadvantaged students, the rates run about 9% lower on average.
We simply cannot afford to allow so many young people to grow up without the skills needed to make meaningful contributions to society and to the economy. Recent research puts the per dropout cost to society – in lower income tax contributions, higher social service use and higher criminal justice expenditures – at just over$290,000. Here are some tactics used successfully in schools around the country to boost graduation rates.
- School choice within, or even across school districts, can allow struggling students a new beginning and can sometimes make all the difference.
- Later start times accommodate teens’ natural biorhythms. (Later start times would benefit all students, not just struggling ones.)
- Allowing part-time attendance accommodates teen parents and wage earners. Part-time attendance is much better than none at all. Students who continue to progress and maintain ties with the school are much less likely to drop out than those who sever those ties.
- Flexible scheduling accommodates work schedules. Middle and upper-income children sometimes work out of choice, but not necessity. Not true for low-income youth. When working results in high school dropout, it creates a self-perpetuating barrier to movement into the middle class.
- Substantive internship programs and service learning projects make learning relevant. They both engage students and prepare them for work life in a way that sitting in a classroom rarely does.
- Offering on-line and blended learning options is a way to meet flexible scheduling goals and help students who are over-aged and under-credited catch up.
- Summer school options, either in a school building or on line, also help under-credited students catch up and can keep teen parents and wage earners from falling behind in the first place.
1 Sum, Andrew, Ishwar Khatiwada, and Joseph McLaughlin. “The Consequences of Dropping out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Cost for Taxpayers.” Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University. Boston. (October 2009).