Reducing High School Dropouts: One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Most would agree that there is seldom a single solution to a problem just like there isn’t one way to teach or one way to lead. Yet we fall into the one-size-fits-all mentality repeatedly. This is particularly true when creating education policy. We pay lip service to the ideal that there are probably multiple ways to address a problem, and then approve a policy that completely ignores that reality.
That’s why I was so shocked, pleased, delighted (take your pick) when I read Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools, By Robert Balfanz, Cheryl Almeida, Adria Steinberg, Janet Santos, and Joanna Hornig Fox.
This report was created at Jobs for the Future, Education for Economic Opportunity, and delivers a sensible approach to transforming the 2.000 high schools that produce more than half of the high school dropouts in the U.S. (Alliance for Excellent Education)
What’s most remarkable is that the report offers an approach that recognizes that according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) the dropout problem isn’t the same in the 50 states, suggesting that the solutions pursued in each state should be unique to that state’s challenges.
The report divides states into groups depending upon three factors: a) the big-city challenge, b) statewide spread, and c) statewide crisis. For example, for reasons defined in the report, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all fall under the big-city challenge.
The report then offers four recommendations for immediate federal action:
- Require states seeking “Race to the Top” funding to use analytic data on graduation rates and low graduation-rate high schools as part of their plans for turning around failing schools.
- Build the capacity of states, districts and schools to implement appropriate high school reform strategies.
- Designate additional federal innovation funding for the development and replication of effective school designs to use in transforming or replacing low graduation-rate high schools.
- Target federal financing to high schools, districts and states with the most pressing dropout problems.
According to this year’s PDK/Gallup poll of the “Public’s Attitudes toward Their Public Schools,” over 90% of Americans believe that the U.S. dropout rate is either the most important or one of the most important problems facing high schools today. This report offers substantive ideas on how to address American’s concerns.