Category: Voices of the Dropout Nation

Voices of the Dropout Nation: Doug Hering on Dropout Prevention in Colorado

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…

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.

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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 editor-at-dropoutnation.net. 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. ]

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Watch: Howard Fuller Explains Parent Power

As a former superintendent of Milwaukee’s public schools, Howard Fuller is well-acquainted with the dysfunctional bureaucracies, disdain of parents and difficulties parents and even parents groups can face in improving…

As a former superintendent of Milwaukee’s public schools, Howard Fuller is well-acquainted with the dysfunctional bureaucracies, disdain of parents and difficulties parents and even parents groups can face in improving the quality of education for their children. This is why he has spent much of the past two decades working to expand options such as vouchers and charter schools — and ultimately, make parent power a reality.

In this 2006 video clip, adapted from a longer videocast produced by the Cascade Policy Institute, the chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options expresses a righteous fury that is sometimes missing among inside-the-Beltway school reformers and can often be found among the Phillip Jacksons and other grassroots activists. Watch, listen and realize that a little indignation is well-deserved on behalf of our children. The key is to turn that indignation into reform-minded action.

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Voices of the Dropout Nation: Teacher Quality This Past Week

Comments, observations and declarations from people advocating for and fostering change: “No capable and dedicated person wants to work in a quality-blind profession, but that’s what’s gradually happening to education……

Comments, observations and declarations from people advocating for and fostering change:

  • “No capable and dedicated person wants to work in a quality-blind profession, but that’s what’s gradually happening to education… There is at least one teacher on every staff that makes us all wonder, “How the heck did they get in, and why do they still have a job?” Somewhere in that teacher’s past timeline, a college professor or principal did not have the guts to say, “This person doesn’t meet the standards of the teaching profession.” — San Gabriel (Calif.) Unified teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron in Teacher (password-required) questioning the value of “last-hired, first-fired” policies and other aspects of the current teacher compensation and evaluation system.
  • “Renaissance teachers have been betrayed by their own union. Despite paying dues—and maybe even more importantly, embodying the very essence of teacher voice deployed in the furtherance of student achievement (and not just their own paychecks) that the UFT always talks about—the UFT has more or less told Renaissance’s teachers to eat cake:  the UFT backed last year’s unfair, disproportionate double cut funding freeze on charter schools; and despite promises from its former President, it refuses to advocate on these teachers’ behalf this year.” — Charter school advocate James Merriman observing a protest by charter school teachers represented by the American Federation of Teachers against the union’s New York City local.
  • “If I could make one single reform nationwide, it would be this: make every building principal completely and personally responsible for hiring and firing teachers. If the school board determines that the principal is capricious or incompetent, then they should fire her or him. This shifts the burden of advocacy from students vs. teachers to teachers vs. principals… why we shouldn’t try something new. Is protecting the jobs of marginal teachers and principals worth sacrificing the potential of some students?” — Charter Insight‘s Peter Hilts on ways to improve teacher quality and hold administrators accountable.
  • “The only way to generate increased performance is to structure the incentive system in such a way that the mean is raised. This means abolishing tenure and seniority, thereby removing the safety net for failure. Then find ways to give the best performers a piece of the economic action for increased productivity. If a man can increase the institution’s net income, give him a larger percentage of this when his output increases… We understand this economic incentive system when it comes to business, yet most people fail to understand it in the field of education.”– Gary North offering another teacher quality solution in his obituary to the work of the late Jaime Escalante. [Dropout Nation offers its own thoughts.]
  • “It took me several years to understand how Garfield’s AP teachers, and the many educators who have had similar results in other high-poverty schools, pulled all this off. They weren’t skimming. It wasn’t a magic trick of test results. They simply had high expectations for every student. They arranged extra time for study — such as Escalante’s rule that if you were struggling, you had to return to his classroom after the final bell and spend three hours doing homework, plus take some Saturday and summer classes, too. They created a team spirit, teachers and students working together to beat the big exam.” — Jay Mathews, who wrote the series of stories and books that made Escalante a household name, on how the teacher succeeded in improving the odds of his students making it in life.
  • “These are freshmen, used to a transactional model of education predominant in American high schools. The fact that this model — the teacher tells the students what to do; students follow teacher’s directions; students get good grades — is the predominant one is a serious problem in our schools, but that’s another issue. Whatever the case may be, I am getting these folks in the final four years of their formal schooling (for the most part) and if I don’t get them thinking on their own, they will crash and burn in the real world.” — Robert Talbert of Casting Out Nines on his process for getting his students to become well-prepared men and women.
  • “But here’s my question: why does it matter if they are public or private as long as students are getting a good education and are not being forced into religious instruction?” — Hechinger Institute boss Richard Lee Colvin on the constant (and often, rambling ed-schoolish dribble) efforts of some to argue that charter schools aren’t public schools. The answer is: It doesn’t matter to the children or the parents or to anyone who cares about improving their lives.
  • “The Pessimist complains about the wind, The Optimist expects it to change, The LEADER adjust the sails! Which are you?” — Dr. Steve Perry offering a much-needed reminder on leadership and school reform.
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Twelve Lessons School Reformers Should Know

Observations to live by, be it education or life: Ad hominem statements by defenders of trad. public ed that involve the words “profiteer” instantly render their arguments as mush. This…

For the Bryant Hollinses of the world and their children, we should strive to improve our communities. They deserve better and so do we. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Observations to live by, be it education or life:

  1. Ad hominem statements by defenders of trad. public ed that involve the words “profiteer” instantly render their arguments as mush. This applies to all forms of ad hominem statements.
  2. Insisting the status quo should remain “ante” even in the face of hard numbers, statistics, facts, isn’t a good idea. Anecdotes and citing Diane Ravitch as a source doesn’t work either.
  3. Nothing is more pathetic than telling a 6-year-old that his family is to blame for low quality of education at a failing school.
  4. Check that. Nothing is more pathetic than declaring that poor children must attend woeful schools and shouldn’t escape them. Period. End of story.
  5. Chances are that dropout you see came from a home in which mom or dad were also stuck with attending dropout factories. Expecting these parents to value education when they didn’t get one that was valuable in the first place makes no sense.
  6. Hillary Rodham Clinton was right about this: It takes a village to raise a child. This was true of me. Same for you. And them too.
  7. Somewhere, everywhere, there are burned-out teachers, abusive parents, neglectful adults. And no one to rescue the kids from them. This is why even those children must be our concern.
  8. There’s nothing wrong with calling yourself a school reformer. Or a defender of lives of kids. It’s inaction that is deplorable. So get up, get out and do the right thing.
  9. Public sector workers who declare their hatred of the “corporate” forget that without them, they would be homeless and jobless. After all, the taxes private sector employees pay (dearly) sustain the very schools and governments for which they work.
  10. Without outsiders offering challenge, the rot within anything, be it education or corporation, would not be recognized and solved. Half of the insiders know what the problems, but have no interest in afflicting their comfort. The rest have no experience with anything else, so everything is fine to them.
  11. As it turns out, in life, you don’t always need the right answer or the correct faith, just the best, most-honorable idea.
  12. And believe. Yes, believe. Not to the point of ignoring reality, but enough to realize that nothing bad lasts forever. Even abysmal traditional public schools.
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Voices of the Dropout Nation: Bill Betzen on Stemming Dropouts in Dallas

As a former social worker-turned-teacher, Bill Betzen understands the importance of dealing with the underlying problems that cause children to drop out. For the past five years, at Quintanilla Middle…

At Quintanilla Middle School, ambitions (and graduation) get protected from the dropout crisis.

As a former social worker-turned-teacher, Bill Betzen understands the importance of dealing with the underlying problems that cause children to drop out. For the past five years, at Quintanilla Middle School in Dallas, he is working with two of the Dallas Independent School District’s high schools on boosting their graduation rates through the School Archive Project. In this brief, he describes how he and his colleagues work to concentrate middle-schoolers on graduating from school and taking control of their own futures.

In the past dropout prevention projects did not look beyond getting a student out of high school and into college. A longer focus into the future, starting in middle school, is increasingly recognized in the educational community as being needed. The planning and success of the Washington University based Freshman Transition Initiative, http://www.freshmantransition.org/, is one verification of the need for our students to plan 10 years into the future. Another is the School Archive Project , http://www.studentmotivation.org, that is now almost 5 years old in Dallas.

The Archive Project only takes two steps: The first step is to know and closely follow current dropout rates so as to monitor progress. Too often official numbers are less than reliable. An annually updated 10+ year enrollment by grade spreadsheet on every school and school district web site, with graduation numbers included, does that. From this spreadsheet a minimum of four separate dropout rate measurements can be calculated showing the current dropout situation in a manner anyone can understand. Auditing enrollment numbers can easily be done. No magical “coding” for “valid transfers” is allowed such as those that allowed the Houston Independent School District to officially claim fantasy dropout rates in the previous decade.

The second step is to bolt a 500-pound gun vault to the floor in every secondary school lobby to function as a 10-year time-capsule. This can happen both at the middle school and high school level. Each new class writes letters to themselves for the vault as they enter the school. They write about their life history and plans for the future. Their parents are invited to also write a letter to their child to place in the same self-addressed envelope with their child’s letter. Then, as the years pass at the school and they walk past the vault every day they know that their letter is already with the thousands of others inside the vault. Hopefully they will think more often of their futures.

As they are about to graduate from that school, students receive back that initial self addressed envelope and use it to another letter to themselves with a clearer focus  ten years into their future. Parents are again invited to write a letter to their child, this time with a 10 year focus in their dreams for their child. The student places the new letters inside another self-addressed envelope and then into the vault. They plan for the ten-year class reunion to retrieve it at which they know they will be invited to speak to then current students in the school about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions from those decade younger students such as: “What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”

The first School Archive Project started in 2005 in a Dallas middle school with an 8th grade class that was the Graduation Class of 2009. Both high schools who received these students had the largest graduation class ever with their Class of 2009. This has effects on the entire Dallas school district as well. Thanks to the gains at these two districts, 11th- and  12th-grade enrollments in Dallas are the highest  on record. Enrollment has increased five percent since the 2005-2006 school year for a total increase of 758 students in these upper grades — even as overall enrollment declined by 2.5-percent during the same time.

Realistically focusing students onto their own futures makes a big difference. Best of all, this simple project costs less than $2 per 8th grade student to run. It also reinforces what teachers are already saying to their students: Plan for the future.

One of the Archive Project’s two high schools, Sunset High, was one of the original Dropout Factories in the original study involving 12th grade enrollment data from 2004-2006. It is no longer a “Dropout Factory” today. As more students in the School Archive Project enters it school, its promoting power has increased, from 38.7 percent in 2005-2006 to 64 percent for 2009-2010.

This summer Sunset saw the value of the Archive Project and started it’s own Archive Project at the high school level. The other middle school feeding into Sunset has also started an Archive Project. Now all students entering Sunset High School will have been involved in the Archive Project in middle school, and the future focus will be reinforced at Sunset with its own 500-pound time-capsule vault present that students will walk past several times each day. The Sunset promotion rate will continue to rise, now even faster than it has these last 4 years.

For other dropout factories, a project such as this can mean higher graduation numbers. For students, it also means graduation — and a more-intensified focus on their own futures.  Everybody wins!

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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 editor-at-dropoutnation.net. 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 or the RiShawn Biddle Consultancy. ]

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