President's Corner                                           Page 43


Dropout Causes Are Many,

Solutions Few



 Benny Gooden

Make no mistake about it — a record number of young people are graduating from America’s high schools, and their academic preparation generally is at an all-time high. However, the number of students who leave our schools before completing a program of study is a national disgrace. The dropout rate is a common element on the often-recited list of educational crises facing the nation.

Most public school educators actively address the problem of dropouts with a wide array of options. Local schools offer everything from online credit-recovery programs, night school and summer school to any number of alternative programs for those who do not respond to the structure of a regular high school.

On the punitive side are compulsory state school attendance laws, which mandate that students continue their enrollment until graduation or until they reach a specified age. Running parallel — if not contrary — to these plans are the requirements in several states that deny graduation until the student passes a high-stakes test.

In every case, the goal is to ensure every student who leaves our secondary schools will possess an appropriate credential that signifies a level of preparation for higher education, the workplace and, we hope, adult life.

In the midst of this flurry of activity to prevent dropouts by providing a plethora of “carrots and sticks,” a safety net is available to help return those who are off-track to the desired pathway. By all these efforts, educators appear to be owning the problem of school dropouts and acting as if they alone can solve the complex puzzle.

The nation would do well to acknowledge a fact every educator knows: The tendency toward dropping out of school often simply manifests itself in high school. Dropping out of school prior to graduation is not simply a high school phenomenon. Although state and federal reporting systems label high schools with the record of dropouts, the problem has many owners.

The insidious effects of poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate health care, substandard housing and neglect seen in many of our children provide the launching pad for dropout statistics. Every elementary school teacher and principal can identify students at an early age who are likely to drop out of school years later -- primarily because of the troubling habits those students acquire during their formative years. These habits include tardiness to school, poor attendance and the behavioral characteristics that may reflect a dysfunctional home situation. These variables amplify young students’ failure to acquire the essential academic foundation in reading and mathematics — and other content areas — is a high predictor of future dropouts.

Students whose academic performance puts them outside the optimal level of achievement during primary and middle grades likely will not miraculously emerge as great scholars in high school. To the contrary, they will become more discouraged, and their attendance will lag. Behavioral issues will only add to the negative school experience.

Simply stated, these students are unhappy in school because they do not see school as a positive experience. These young people often function outside the mainstream of successful students who are engaged in school activities and other aspects of a positive school program.

Preventing dropouts is not an exclusive responsibility of America’s schools, especially high schools. Although school attendance may end at this level for statistical purposes, these students dropped out emotionally and academically many years before. At the end of the day, causes are many; solutions are few.

This column concludes my opportunity to contribute to School Administrator. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve those who lead the nation’s schools. Your commitment to students continues to distinguish the profession.

Benny Gooden is AASA president for 2012-13. E-mail: bgooden@fortsmithschools.org


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