Magazine article District Administration

The Dropout Crisis: Educators Sound off on the Pros and Cons of the National Education Association's 12-Step Plan to Reduce Dropouts

Magazine article District Administration

The Dropout Crisis: Educators Sound off on the Pros and Cons of the National Education Association's 12-Step Plan to Reduce Dropouts

Article excerpt

Omnis discipulus gradibus suscipiet

Every student will graduate

This strong message reverberated in education circles last October the NEA unveiled a comprehensive plan for communities to address the dropout crisis because, after all, it takes a village to raise a child. Its 12-point plan to reduce the dropout rate, in part, calls on educators and community members to "not enable" would-be dropouts to leave. "We must take time to intervene and give students individual attention to stay connected and in school," NEA President Reginald Weaver said when the plan was announced. "This is a call to action, a call to change, a chance to step up and do our part. It's no longer acceptable to drop out."

Since a Nation at Risk, the 1983 report that warned that the U.S. education system s mediocrity would jeopardize the nation, some school and state education department officials have unsuccessfully been trying to get a grip on the high school dropout problem.

Dropping out forces young Americans into dead-end jobs where they make little money to support their families, or worse, they turn to unhealthy lifestyles and crime.

The statistics are striking:

Every nine seconds, a student drops out, according to the American Youth Policy Forum report, Whatever It Takes. One-third of public school students fail to graduate with their class, and nearly half of all blacks and Latinos fail to do so. They're bored, disengaged, or feel no one truly cares if they stay or go. Some choose to leave school to work for their families, or they become parents themselves.

Most states and districts use their own formulas to calculate the numbers, so comparing dropout rates is impossible, but most agree it's a crisis. The only answer for national economic, social, and healthy prosperity is to squash the problem with more money, more time, and more community support. "This issue is on life support," says Weaver. "If we don't do something, it will slip out of our grasp."

While Weaver claims there are many ways to address the problem, the NEA plan is the most promising based on a wide range of experience and data. And NEA's plan has the support of U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, who is co-authoring a Graduation for All bill in Congress with U.S. Rep. Susan Davis of California. Additional support comes from Verizon, offering programs to help students, and from John Bridgeland, co-author of The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropout, a report by Civic Enterprises with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The epidemic report offers its own policy recommendations that are fairly consistent with the NEA's plan. "If we want to say it's the responsibility of one group, we'll never be successful," Weaver said. "It's everyone's responsibility to make sure these kids have a chance to go to school."

Some educators, asked to comment on the plan showed a wide range of responses. For example, some claimed certain points were unrealistic or old ideas repackaged differently, such as making graduation or equivalency compulsory up to age 21. But most also admitted that much of the plan's ideas are worthy. Most of the ideas demand money and resources, which are in short supply, and lack how-to implementation recipes for individual districts that vary in size, location, and ethnic and racial makeup, some say.

"They are saying, 'Take these 12 things and do them everywhere,'" says Bruce Hunter of the American Association of School Administrators. "There are about 25,000 secondary schools in America. Some of them have 25 kids and some have 5,000 kids. This cookie-cutter approach doesn't apply."

But the NEA thinks this approach, like other successful 12step programs, could be an answer. Bridgeland agrees with the plan that making learning more engaging and relevant to students' lives would keep more of them in class. His own report's recommendations range from improving teaching and curricula, to showing links between school and work and developing early warning systems to identify students who might fall through the cracks. …

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