Dropout Factories…and Garth Speaks

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The North Carolina Education Alliance, an education-wing of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation, released an editorial on our state’s so-called “dropout factories,” this description was from a recent story from the Associated Press, in which they also named four Guilford County schools among the nationwide list.

Look at their take on it, then see what GCS Board member Garth Hebert has to say about  it.

Are American high schools laboratories of learning or “dropout factories”? New data out this week from the Associated Press indicate a disturbing 12 percent of high schools nationwide deserve the “factory” moniker. These schools are prolific producers, but not in a good way, churning out dropouts almost as fast as graduates.

Johns Hopkins researcher Bob Balfanz is the man behind the sound bite, defining a “dropout factory” as a high school in which no more than 60 percent of students who begin as freshmen don a cap and gown as graduates.

In North Carolina, 23 percent of public high schools are dropout mills. Such rampant high school failure has far-reaching implications for our state’s economy and the personal lives of students. According to The High Cost of Low Graduation Rates in North Carolina (.pdf), a study released jointly last week by the Friedman Foundation and Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), high school dropouts cost the state $169 million each year.

Friedman Senior Fellow and report author Brian Gottlob details the dreary life prospects of high school dropouts: they are twice as likely to be unemployed as high school graduates, earn significantly less per year, are more likely to receive Medicaid benefits, and run a greater chance of being incarcerated.

All of this adds up to a hefty tab for taxpayers. According to the PEFNC/Friedman report, each year, dropouts increase state Medicaid costs by roughly $155 million, reduce tax revenue by $712 million, and tack on additional incarceration costs of $6 million. And while per-pupil funding (excluding federal and local dollars) adds up to around $4,877 per year, each dropout costs North Carolina $4,437 annually. Because of this, Gottlob notes, “the state is spending about as much on dropouts each year after they leave school as it spent when they were in school.”

Fortunately, at the state and national levels, lawmakers are grappling with the problem. But prescriptions for reform vary widely. Our state General Assembly has formed two committees to tackle the dropout issue. State Senator Vernon Malone, a co-chairman of the joint legislative committee, is advocating more money, admonishing, “We’re not going to solve the problem on the cheap.” Lawmakers might want to think twice before dipping deeply into education coffers, however: state public school funding for 2006-07 totaled $7.37 billion (.pdf) – a 114 percent increase since 1992-93, and clearly not “cheap” by anyone’s standards.

Other proposals under consideration would raise the compulsory attendance age. But research finds forcing kids to stay in school longer has no significant effect on dropout rates, nor does it deal with student boredom and disengagement, key factors in the decision to leave school early.

Nationally, House and Senate proposals to reauthorize No Child Left Behind would increase school accountability for graduation performance. Other legislation would push for greater accuracy in dropout reporting and require disaggregating rates based on ethnic subgroups.

Collecting better data is a step in the right direction, as is enhanced accountability. But our broken system merits a more comprehensive overhaul in the form of school choice – allowing students to use public funds to attend a school of their choosing. That’s the solution proposed by PEFNC and the Friedman Foundation: by their estimates, even a modest school-choice program in North Carolina would reduce the number of dropouts by up to 5,483 students each year, saving close to $24 million annually.

Choice won’t solve our dropout crisis single-handedly, but it’s a big step in the right direction. Across the nation, students are leaving public high schools in droves. Trapped in dull and deadening dropout factories, they are desperate for a way out. Not only does choice give these kids an escape hatch (while keeping them in school), research (.pdf) finds it also benefits the public system.

When it comes to producing high school graduates, our one-size-fits-all, assembly-line approach to education clearly isn’t working. Isn’t it time we tried something new?

The NCEA writes from a choice perspective and while we can debate the issue of pure school choice nine-ways-to-Sunday here, we still need to solve the problem of what’s happening in our schools today, right now.

Locally, we have four schools on the list that have been labeled as “dropout factories.”

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/high/dudley/Dudley2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Dudley High School, which in my opinion, is starting to make some hard strides in terms of turning things around there, but much remains to be done.

The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/images/easternpod.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Eastern Guilford High School, which obviously had a tough year last year and is doing its very best to overcome and rebuild for the future.

The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/high/highpointcentral/HighPointCentral.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. High Point Central, which is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. They’ve met federal and state benchmarks last year, but they still have a long way to go as well. Many of my biggest supporters of this campaign so far have ties to High Point Central.

The image “https://i0.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/high/smith/Smith2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Ben L. Smith H.S. I think Smith is a school that needs much focusing and direction in order to meet its challenges.

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/boe/images/quick.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.  The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/boe/images/hayes.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Amos Quick is all over Dudley H.S., and has much to say at just about every school board meeting about Dudley. Deena Hayes should be doing the same thing with Smith, and yet I hear very little coming out of her mouth with regards to Smith.

Speaking of Smith, my friend and former colleague Doug Clark at the News & Record, recently visited Smith and met with Principal Dr. Noah Rogers. Click here to read about his visit.

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/boe/images/hebert1.JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. But back to the issue at hand…obviously with the recent string of stories and local concern over our (real) rising dropout rate, the N&R opened a string on the Chalkboard on this very subject…and Garth chimed in.

Garth said:

I do not buy the numbers we get for anything in the County. As for dropout – it is just a simple rounding but last numbers that were of statistical reliability were not very good nationally. Only 2/3rds of students graduate High School, 2/3 of that go to college and 60% of that finish a degree beyond High School. More fun yet, we guy’s are 5% below norm and girls 5% above norm…ie 10% gap.

Please tell me how we in GCS are doing so much better than national norms? You need to know what the numbers truly represent in detail. Take number of graduating High Schoolers in a growing county and divide by number of beginning freshman 4 years prior and that is a good guestimate of a raw score. We should not judge success by 2 or 3 percentage points on this ratio. I would prefer to know the truth and deal with it than have a political fiction.

I do not believe Terry should be evaluated on this number period. Too many extraneous variables, he does a pretty good job of creatively addressing this issue in real solution terms. I just wish we could deal with the issue in real terms.
Garth

***********************

To which, a respondent replied:

Parent said:

Garth…

A 9th grade English teacher mentioned to me that one of the students that she has the most trouble with disrupting her class is a
17 year old (should be a senior) that is in her 9th grade English class with 13 and 14 year olds.

My son told me that there is someone in his level one elective class that is disrupting the class contiunually that is 18…everyone else is 14 and 15.

Are these students in these classes because of classroom inclusion? They have obviously not been successful in these classes for several years…Why do we just keep sending them back in the same situation?

17 and 18 year olds should not repeatedly take CP English 9….something is obviously not working and they need to be taught in a different setting, in a smaller class, or something……
but they should not be allowed to continually disrupt these classrooms.

****************************

Maybe this is something the new “Twilight” School can address. Maybe it will work. I’m not completely sold on it yet. But I do know this is an issue that needs to be continually addressed, not just talked about every once in a blue moon.

E.C. 🙂

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