January 2015: No Recipe For Dropout

I am the mother of a recovered dropout. It’s true. People often ask how I, the Dropout Prevention and Recovery “guru” for such a large school district, can have a son who dropped out of school. Well, here’s what we know about dropouts: there’s no recipe. Yep. That’s it. You were waiting for some profound algorithm weren’t you? A magic formula that would cure all your dropout rate/attendance rate/completion rate/AYP/accountability woes, right? Yeah, good luck with that.

IDENTIFYING AT-RISK STUDENTS

There are some issues with how we view potential dropouts. Ask a school counselor, administrator, or teacher what makes a student at-risk and most will respond with either economically disadvantaged or truancy, neither of which is among the 13 indicators named in section 29.081 of the Texas Education Code, although intuitively we associate both with dropping out of school. Those 13 indicators aren’t an exact science. In fact, if you look at the indicators established by Title I Part D of NCLB (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg11.html#sec1432) there are distinct differences between how Texas and federal statute identify students at-risk of dropping out of school.

Although we are required to report students who meet any of these criteria through the PEIMS system, the National High School Center (http://www.betterhighschools.org/pubs/ews_guide.asp) contends an on-track indicator based on attendance and course performance in the freshman year is a better indicator of a student’s likelihood to graduate than his academic or assessment history.

HOW EARLY IS EARLY?

The early warning systems suggest students should receive targeted interventions based on data that is readily available their first year of high school. No argument here! But is that really dropout prevention? I would argue that students who meet the criteria established for this Early Warning System are already disengaged and, therefore, we are being reactive rather than proactive; this is not prevention, but rather intervention and recovery. Mentally and emotionally these students have already dropped out. Did you just ask yourself why, then, we continue to target our efforts at the secondary level? That’s easy! It’s attached to funding and accountability. The act of dropping out is merely a symptom of underlying issues.

PREVENTION BEGINS AT HOME

It’s like charity. It begins at home. Dropout prevention is only truly prevention when it begins as soon as a student meets criteria for identification. We stress meeting students “where they are” and have worked diligently to improve academic intervention strategies. We seem to have missed the fact that not all of the 13 indicators are academic. Nor are the root causes for identification under the academic indicators necessarily academic in nature. Developing strategies to meet students (and families) where they are emotionally and socially is the truest definition of prevention and yet the most elusive goal to attain because that data isn’t available to districts.

The moral of this story is: school districts work hard to keep students engaged and in school but we lack the resources to address the underlying issues that affect academic performance. So while we continue to do great work in the areas we can, we must become more active with our legislative process and collaborative with our social service and mental health providers to remove barriers to educational success and empower families to achieve!

 

W. BrowerAuthor: Wendy Brower

For more information about Wendy, please visit the “Guest Blogger” page.

 

 

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