Dropouts: The Great Threat to out Nation

By Deneen, Sally | Success, August-September 2008 | Go to article overview

Dropouts: The Great Threat to out Nation


Deneen, Sally, Success


Kareema Conda-Barr had a lot going for her: She loved being a cheerleader and ranked 11th academically in her high school freshman class. He dad, a retired professor, pushed education among his nine kids. Everybody in the middle-class Chicago family was expected to run track, and "Mickey Mouse," as friends nicknamed 4-foot-11-inch Kareema, had a personal best time of sprinting around a stadium track in 59 seconds.

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Then, the day before her dad's 66th birthday, Kareema was at cheerleading practice when her mother arrived and broke the news:

Dad had died.

"After my father passed, I lost my passion for education," Kareema says. "My father was the foundation, was the structure of our family."

Kareema spiraled downward. By midway through senior year, she ranked 400 seniors at her public vocational school. As she spent afternoons practicing for the track, diving, cross-country and swim teams, her grades slid downhill. "Most people saw me as OK: 'Her grades are like that because she was in sports.'"

She intended to skate through graduation day until she was started by an English teacher's remark: Who says you're going to graduate? If you keep going this way, you won't.

"She changed my life. I ended up dropping out because of that class," says Kareema, now 25 and married with three kids. "My attitude toward her: How dare you! Just put a C on there or D on there. But she wasn't one of those kinds of teachers. She was like: 'I know you can do much better than this.'" The well-intentioned remark had the opposite effect. Under the new pressure, Kareema dropped out.

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Reality Check

Every 26 seconds, on average, another teen drops out of public high school, which translates to more than 3,000 per school day. Nearly one-third of public high school students quit school. Nearly half of minority students drop out. It's even worse in some cities--in 17 of the nation's 50 largest cities, fewer than half of kids graduate. In Cleveland, only 34 percent of students graduated with their class, and in Indianapolis, 30 percent graduated, according to a recent report issued by America's Promise Alliance that analyzed 2003 2004 data. Detroit fared worst; only 25 percent graduated.

Dropouts are at least eight times likelier to be imprisoned or jailed, research has shown. Also according to research highlighted at SilentEpidemic.org, dropouts are four times less likely to volunteer in the community than college graduates. They're half as likely to vote. The government would reap $45 billion in extra tax revenue and reduced costs in public health, crime and welfare payments if the number of 20-year-old dropouts in the United States today--700,000--were cut in half. Dropping out of high school is "a million-dollar mistake," says Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO of America's Promise Alliance; that's the difference between their lifetime earnings compared to people with college degrees.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Former U.S. Army General Colin Powell calls the nation's dropout problem a crisis, a threat to national security. He and his wife, Alma, are heading a national movement to reverse the dropout trend. They're spearheading dropout summits in every state to mobilize business, civic, religious and education leaders into developing local action plans to keep kids in school. Sponsored by financial backers like Boeing, State Farm Insurance, AT&T, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ford Motor Company Fund, the summits are the latest effort to combat what's called "the silent epidemic."

"When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it's more than a problem, it's a catastrophe," says Powell, founding chairman of America's Promise Alliance. Making the case in an opinion piece published in The Washington Times, he and his wife wrote, "It isn't just an education issue. …

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