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How to truly cut dropout rate

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POSTED: May 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.
A Statement by the High School Completion Task Force of the University of Georgia College of Education Policy and Evaluation Center

A new national study reported by world renowned economist and professor Henry Levin of Columbia University found that with every additional dollar spent on high quality programs to keep high school students in school until graduation, the economy benefits by a return of $1.30. And as importantly, every student who completes high school adds to the core of knowledgeable and active citizens who can work with others to solve problems of one's neighborhood, state and nation.
In Georgia, we have nearly the worst dropout rate in our nation so it would appear reasonable that the recent state initiative that gives each middle and high school a targeted allotment of $40,000 to hire "graduation coaches" would be a good idea. But, as well intentioned as this initiative might be, we find little evidence-based research to support the likely success of this singular effort to erase the staggering number of dropout students in our state.
If there were to be a comprehensive effort for reducing dropouts in our state plan, it would address many of these known factors:
1. Students drop out of school due to disinterest in what they are taught and this issue can only be resolved by changing school curriculum to become more active, engaging and relevant. This means more up-to-date books, technology, teaching materials, integrated experiences that build on students' interests, and supports for classroom teachers to teach in ways that make students want to learn.
2. Students drop out because of financial needs to support themselves, their parent and/or siblings, or they have their own children to care for and have no childcare available. This means that schools need to coordinate with social agencies and childcare and school hours need to be flexible.
3. Students drop out because they feel alienated in a school, often the victims of bullying and harassment by fellow students while other students leave due to involvement in violence, drugs and other criminal behavior. Others have an abusive home situation or find their identity in a gang. This means programs to teach tolerance and acceptance of differences to both school personnel and students (around sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, abilities and disabilities) and more alternative and transitional programs are needed for troubled students, and more followup work at home with families and youth agencies
4. Students drop out when they fail state exit exams due to language difficulties, or being taught by teachers who are out of field, or having test anxiety on standardized exams. (The state will soon make this situation more problematic by requiring that students, who fail a subject area test, will also not receive credit for the course even when a teacher would have given a student a passing grade for the course.) This means incentives for hiring more in-field teachers and language specialists, more professional development for veteran teachers, and more flexibility in how students can demonstrate what they have learned beyond a single state test.
5. Students drop out due to being anonymous in large schools without ongoing personal attention and support from the same teachers and counselors for multiple years. This means breaking large schools into either smaller team units or smaller schools and reorganizing classroom time and size so that teachers and counselors can know each student well over many years.
6. Students drop out due to non-existent or poor early childhood programs. High quality early childhood programs are a predictor of students doing well in later school and in later adult life. This means that every child from infancy on needs a developmental and integrated curriculum complete with rich language experiences and manipulative activities provided by well prepared early childhood educators.
...Every day we fail to invest additional dollars to provide a well-documented comprehensive education for all our students, we as a society pay the cost of losing productive citizens of Georgia, the country and the world.

The High School Completion Task Force of  UGA's Education Policy and Evaluation Center includes Bonnie Cramond, professor of gifted education; Janna Dresden, research professional; Carl Glickman, scholar-in-residence, program for educational administration and policy; Robert Hill, associate professor of adult education; April Peters, assistant professor of educational administration and policy; Amy Reschly, assistant professor of educational psychology; and Jolie Daigle, assistant professor of counseling and human development services.
 

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