Photo courtesy of the Denver Post

As the co-publisher of Charter School Insights, Doug Hering generally focuses on the evolution of charter schools in Denver and across the nation. But another aspect of his focus involves dealing with how Colorado — a pioneer in charter schools and performance pay — deals with the nation’s dropout crisis. In this brief report, Hering details some of the moves the Golden State is making in order to keep more students in school until graduation. Given the size of Colorado’s Latino population and the spread of the dropout crisis in the state — some 16,333 students likely drop out every year — observing how officials and communities there deal with the crisis can inform how other states approach the issue:

Can Colorado cut the number of students dropping out of school by half by the end of a decade? That’s the goal outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter has set for the state’s high schools over the next ten years.  To help reach that goal, Colorado also passed a law establishing an office focused on collecting graduation and dropout data, along with conducting research on the most-effective means of dropout reduction.

Driving Ritter’s mandate: Some 30 percent of Colorado’s high school freshmen drop out within four years. As Johns Hopkins made clear in a recent study of five districts in the state, such numbers are “unacceptable”.  The study, which examined the relationship between various correlating factors among dropouts, determined that there are many factors that can be observed in middle school and high school that indicate a high likelihood of a student dropping out.  This includes course failure in the ninth grade, an out-of-school suspension during the ninth grade, and a history of chronic absenteeism (or failing to attend class more than 10 days in the school year).

The Johns Hopkins report, part of the work the university has done in Baltimore, Indianapolis and other cities over the past six years, offers the state a list of early warning indicators of a sort that can be used in keeping kids in schools before they drop. This also means focusing on the students who are experiencing academic failure even before they reach high school.

Some school districts have already begun their own dropout reduction programs. Take, for example, the Boulder Valley School District, which found that following up with dropouts is the single most effective tactic in keeping them in school. What the district learned is that students were waiting to see if anyone cared. When school officials showed that they cared, it made potential dropouts think.

In Colorado Springs, the school district there found similar results when they called upon dropouts.  In fact, the mayor, Lionel Rivera, was part of the calling committee. One young man who re-entered school was both impressed that the mayor called and also that there were options for him to complete his high school education with his peers. Having alternatives that dropouts are aware of and understand has proved helpful to encourage students to re-enter a high school program.

Then there is a strategy being undertaken by a Denver charter school, Denver School of Science and Technology. With minorities approximating 60 percent of student population and poverty rates of 50 percent, the school has successfully integrated their program and has achieved a 100% graduation rate. The school, currently expanding, and believes it can double the number of college-ready high school graduates within the next ten years. While it’s not clear how many of these students would have been dropouts, it is clear that DSST is raising the bar, another proven method of increasing graduation rates.


Want to offer your voice on what is happening in the dropout nation? Working on solutions to improve the lives of children? E-mail your thoughts to Dropout Nation holds the right to edit for space and accuracy.

[Oh yeah, the pesky disclaimer (as if you didn’t already know): All Voices are solely opinions of the author, not of Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle, The RiShawn Biddle Consultancy or Dropout Nation Publications. ]