April 19, 2008
Don't blame schools for high school dropout rate"Eighty per cent of our public school pupils drop out of the schools before attaining to the high school, and 97 per cent of all our public school pupils, from the primary grades to the high schools, drop out before graduation from the high school."
By Paul Thomas
"Only four out of 10 U.S. children finish high school; only one of five who finish high school goes to college." "Whereas the conventional wisdom had long placed the graduation rate around 85 percent, a growing consensus has emerged that only about seven in 10 students are actually successfully finishing high school. Graduation rates are even lower among certain student populations, particularly racial and ethnic minorities and males."
The first came from the Douglas Commission report (1905); the second from the U.S. commissioner of education (Time magazine, 1947); and the third from "Cities in Crisis" (America's Promise Alliance, 2008).
The public and political reaction to the recent "Cities" report may be as important as the report itself. Let's look at what the report and the reactions reveal.
Mechanistic solutions from politicians. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' reaction to the "Cities" report includes recommending a standard formula to calculate drop-out rates. That we measure and how we measure seem to be the standard panacea for those in power. Political and popular reactions without historical context. The outline above proves one reality about bureaucratic and popular responses to educational issues: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Students dropping out of school is a historical reality of education in the U.S. Also a historical reality is the superficial and simplistic reactions to this and other "crises" in education by politicians and bureaucrats. Inflated rhetoric unsupported by evidence. The "Cities" report is important, but it certainly does not signal a dropout crisis. A significant population of students has always become disenfranchised from our schools, resulting in dropouts. School accountability for social failures. A student dropping out of school is simply one type of student/parent choice. As long as students may legally drop out of school after a designated age, the responsibility for that lies primarily with the family -- not solely with the schools. Yet we persist in blaming schools for reflecting social realities.
Now, the "Cities" report can be useful if it leads to addressing a few questions:
What do dropout statistics suggest about the social dynamics that manifest themselves in our schools? Too often, we as a culture blame schools as the cause for social ills that classrooms coincidentally house. We must begin to distinguish between what schools cause and what schools house. Why do students drop out? And who are those students? No one is offering data related to what causes students to drop out, but we seem to imply that schools alone are failing. If we find the reasons behind students dropping out, we may be able to identify how society and schools can better serve students. What impact is the accountability movement having on high school graduation rates? Many critics of No Child Left Behind and other accountability measures believe that high-stakes testing and accountability standards for graduation are to blame for increasing dropout rates. We need research to determine if this is true. Finally, if we do determine that we as a society should work to keep more if not all students in school until they graduate, we must admit that the reasons for dropout rates are complex; thus, solutions will be complex also. We must also consider the growing impact that transient populations have on our schools, a population that is disproportionately struggling with English proficiency and poverty.
Reports without historical context and crisis rhetoric have not served us well over the past century; they will not serve us well today. We are not suddenly in the middle of a dropout crisis, but we as a society certainly have a great deal of serious work to do for those students and their parents who believe that leaving our schools holds more promise than attaining a high school diploma.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Commentary on Dropout Commentary