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It has been proven that a high school degree goes hand in hand with more job offers as well as more earnings. Despite this fact, high school dropout rates are on the increasing again. "â€¦it is surprising and disturbing that, at a time when the premium for skills has increased and the return to high school graduation has risen, the high school dropout rate in America is increasing" (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2008, ¶ 2).
A survey, done nationally, records the number students that have completed high school. This information is conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census and then provided by the Current Population Survey (CPS). They print these results in a newspaper each year and the National Center for Education Statistic (NCES) uses these results to calculate the "status dropout rate" (Barton, 2008, p. 5). According to Robert Stillwell (2010), the definition given by NCES states:
A dropout is an individual who was enrolled in school at some time during the previous school year; was not enrolled at the beginning of the current school year; has not graduated from high school or completed a state- or district-approved education program; and does not meet any of the following exclusionary conditions: transfer to another public school district, private school, or state- or district-approved education program; temporary absence due to suspension or school-approved illness; or death. (p. 24).
State schools have been battling dropout rates for many years. Some of the latest data found by NCES, indicated that there were 613,379 dropouts from high school, grades 9 through 12. This makes the overall national dropout rates of 4.1 percent (Stillwell, 2010). However, according to the Indiana Department of Education in the 2008-09 school year 8.7 percent of Indiana students have dropped out or are unaccounted for. (Indiana Department of Ed., 2009).
Dropout rates have hit home for schools locally as well. It appears as if it is becoming more a problem. Over the past few years, some students at North Decatur Jr.-Sr. High School made the life impacting decision to dropout. The following dropout data for North Decatur and the State of Indiana was taken from the Indiana Department of Education on July 24, 2010:
Dropout/Undetermined Rates for Grades 9-12
(Four Years or Less Rate- As required by IC 20-26-13)
Year State Average North Decatur Jr.-Sr. High School
2008-09 8.7% 12.8%
2007-08 10.3% 18.7%
2006-07 12.0% 7.1%
2005-06 11.2% 11.1%
These statistics for Indiana's state average appear to be slowly improving in a general sense. Nonetheless improvement can be made. North Decatur needs some obvious room for improvement. Even though there was a huge decline from the 2007-08 to the 2008-09 school year, 12.8% isn't even close to the National average dropout rate of 4.1percent that was stated earlier. Improving high school dropout rates is a very relevant issue that both Indiana and North Decatur needs to improve.
Like many states, schools, and researchers, President Obama has seen the need to address High school Graduation rates. According to Christi Parsons from the Los Angeles Times (2010), President Obama states that:
Not long ago you could drop out of high school and reasonably expect to find a blue-collar job that would pay the bills and help support your family. That's just not the case anymore. Graduating from high school is an economic imperative (¶ 5).
Similar statements (Barton, 2009; Heckman & LaFontaine, 2008; Stanley & Plucker, 2008) about the importance of education can be found in most research journals in relation to high school students dropping out.
In hopes to figure out ad reverse current statistics, Russell Rumberger and Sun Ah Lin (2008) interviewed a series of high school dropouts for a study. They found some students were dropping out due to "factors associated with individual characteristics of students, and factors associated with the institutional characteristics of their families, schools, and communities" (p. 1). In these categories they are holding educational performance, behaviors and attitudes, and the student's background accountable. Other researchers are saying the same thing. Kylie R. Stanley and Jonathan A. Plucker (2008) believe that some students are leaving school because they are lacking one or more of the "â€¦new three R's of education: Relationships, relevance, and rigor" (p. 2). Others are leaving due to financial hardship, becoming a parent, or have to care for a member of their family (Stanley & Plucker, 2008).
Regardless of the reason why students are dropping out, something needs to be done. Expects agree that there has been a plethora of research done to figure out why students drop out. Stanley and Plucker (2008) have come to the conclusion that more work needs to be done to keep the students that are currently still in school, in school. They believe schools needs to do a better job implementing the 3 R's directly to the current at-risk students and the entire student body.
Mentoring/ Monitoring programs, alternative education, incentive programs, remediation have been suggested as ways to help students. Some schools are in the process of trying one or all of these programs. However, in some areas funding makes these programs not only difficult to start but also difficult to maintain. (Stanley & Plucker, 2008). President Obama has recently made a statement that he was going to allow $900 million more next year in grants for schools to help fight the dropout rate for struggling schools. Still, most of this money is going to go to larger city schools and still needs to be passed by congress before any action can be taken (Parsons, 2010).
A potential solution for high school dropouts at North Decatur might include changing the curriculum up a little bit. I realize that there are standards and requirements students must meet in order to graduate, but I think if you made more classes optional, the at-risk students may feel like they have more options. Students that want to pursue college are going to stay on the Core 40 or Honors diploma track anyway. For a student that is on the fence about toughing out the school year or dropping out is more than likely not going to consider even going to college. Therefore by having the at-risk student take a few classes that they are interested in might save them. Hopefully classes will be hands-on and teach skills that the students are going to need right away. These types of students need to see the immediate connection between what they are learning and how it is going to helpful to them in the real world. That part I can already implement pretty easily into my classroom, being an agriculture teacher. I would have to rate this solution as a (M). I chose maybe because I really think I can tailor many of my lessons to appeal to these at-risk students. I realize not all of them want to be in the agriculture industry, but I know I can find a way to apply some of my lesson to anyone. On the flipside, I am not in charge of setting the curriculum or graduation requirements, so this would be something that needed to be discussed with the principals, superintendents, and guidance counselors.
Starting a mentoring program would be a great idea. However, our school, as well as most schools, is very limited in funding. A possible way around this is to ask for volunteers within the school system and community. Students that show signs of potentially dropping out (absenteeism, behavioral issues, low grades, etc.) can be matched up with a teacher, counselor, or community member. They can meet regularly and make that student feel like they belong, while letting them know the impact of dropping out. If we can get the volunteers or even a grant to do something like this, I would rate this solution as an (O). I think there are enough concerned teachers and parents that would volunteer to see their students succeed in life.
After students dropout, some decide that it was a mistake and decide to go back to school and get a diploma or a GED. I think it would be a neat idea if schools could take some of those students and have them talk to the schools. I think it would have to be done locally though. Students need to see direct relation. I know if we had someone from a big city come and talk to North Decatur about life decisions, most would tune them out. However, if it was someone they knew from the community, it might really hit home. These people could talk about why they decided to drop out, what happened when they did, and why they decided to go back to school. I would rate this as an (O) as well. As long as you could find a couple people that are willing to share their stories, and judging by North Decatur's dropout rate, it shouldn't be entirely to difficult to do.
In order to decrease North Decatur's dropout rates, I feel that incorporating a mentoring program and have community members come in, that went back to school, would be the best solution. This way the school could catch some students that might have fallen through the cracks. If for some reason a student wasn't recognized to be in the mentoring program, maybe the talk from the community member would help them realize that dropping out isn't necessarily the answer. Also hearing the community members talk about their life experiences, might help the general student body realize how important schooling is. It might have them think about pursing college if they were unsure about it prior to this activity.
In order to accomplish this solution, many things will need to fall into place. First of all I would need to talk this over with the principal and given the green light- I would need to start recruiting possible mentors. We have some very passionate teachers, so I don't think this would be too difficult. The teachers would also need to sit down and make a list of potentially at-risk students. Students would need to be divided up with a mentor, and time would need to be allotted for these meetings to occur. As far as finding community members that have dropped out in the past, but decided to go back to school, I would first as the guidance office for a list of students that did dropout in the past. Greensburg is a relatively small town, so chances are teachers know who on the list decided to go back to school and might be willing to share their story. Calling them up, and setting up a time to meet with the students would be the one of the final steps. If I could get a program like this going, I would also want students to take a survey and tell me what they thought about it, and if any changes needed to be made the following year.