Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dropout Factories

A wise man (my brother) once said that "America might be the only great power to fall because its citizens weren't educated enough to maintain it." I'm starting to realize the truth in that statement. From the Chronicle and multiple other news outlets today:

AUSTIN — Texas has 185 high schools, including 42 in the eight-county Houston area, that are hemorrhaging students fast enough to be called "dropout factories" in a new national report.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who conducted the study for The Associated Press, applied that label to high schools with an attrition rate of 40 percent or higher — which amounted to one in 10 high schools across America.

The report's release coincides with a Texas study by the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association showing a 34 percent statewide attrition rate for the 2006 graduating class.

No matter how you look at it, this is a travesty that exposes policy initiatives like "No Child Left Behind" as just so much empty rhetoric. No child is left behind - by themselves anyway. They've got nearly half of their classmates with them. The schools are applying a different spin to the issue of course.

While they don't think the study is solid, Houston ISD officials acknowledge the district's dropout rate is too high. They've tried to tackle the issue by holding an annual door-to-door walk in the fall to look for students who haven't returned to school. The district also has a team of specialists who do a similar job year-round.

(Spokesman Terry) Abbott echoed the mobility issue, citing a ninth-grader who starts in one school and graduates in another can count as a dropout, and HISD has many transfers within the district.

"Calling them 'dropout factories' is just wrong. It's offensive to the many great men and women who give their lives to teaching children every day," he said.

He's right, there are many excellent teachers in the district who are dedicated to helping their students succeed. I'm sure that there are others just drawing a paycheck. But the issue isn't so much about teachers as it is about the allocation of resources, as evidenced by the "dropout factories" overwhelmingly being located in poor, inner city communities. Of course this issue affects African-Americans and Latinos disproportionately, especially here in Texas.

Maria Cuca Robledo, director of the Intercultural Development Research Association, said the term is "accurate" and noted that about 70 percent of the 2.7 million Texas students who left school during her group's study period were Hispanic or black.

But here's the money quote:

Schools plan for a 30 percent student attrition rate when hiring teachers, developing curriculum and building new schools, she said.

Planning for a 30 percent dropout rate? Like I said earlier, anyway you look at it this is a travesty.

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