If every freshman, sophomore, junior and senior at Broad Ripple, Carmel and Zionsville High Schools dropped out, that would be about the same number of secondary school students – 6,829 -- that drop out every day across America.
In Indiana, 127 kids drop out daily. Those figures are reported in Diplomas Count 2008, an analysis conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center based in Bethesda, Maryland and “Education Week” publisher. In 2005, the most recent year available, the national graduation rate was 70.6 percent. The researchers also estimated that 1.23 million high school students will fail to graduate from the class of 2008.
Graduation rate statistics are being calculated more accurately in Indiana (and in many other states) than in the past, in part, because of new state and federal requirements. Indiana and other states typically counted only the seniors who dropped out of high school for their figures vs. adding in all the underclassmen who dropped out before the last year of school.
For example in 2005, under the state’s old formulas, Indiana reported a graduation rate of nearly 90 percent. Using a more uniform and accurate formula, Diplomas Count researchers said that the Indiana graduation rate was closer to 74 percent.
Since research shows that high school drop outs are more likely to go to prison, stay in dead-end jobs, live in poverty and raise children who also will dropout of school, educators and public policy makers are scrambling to reverse the crisis.
Luke Messer, a former Republican state representative for Shelby and Bartholomew counties, led a bipartisan effort that changed Indiana’s legal drop out age from 16 to 18. The law includes penalties for youth who leave school without a parent’s legal consent such as losing a driver’s license and work permit.
Nobody knows yet whether that legislation, which became law in 2005, will make a difference. Time magazine reported two years ago that Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia have had similar laws for years but haven’t reported fewer drop outs as a result.
Several drop outs interviewed by Y-Press didn’t even know the legislation existed and didn’t know anyone penalized for leaving school before 18.
But Messer, now a partner in the public affairs group of the Ice Miller law firm, said he’s heard from dozens of teachers, principals and parents that kids know they must now stay in school until age 18.
“If a student drops out at 18, he or she is much closer to graduation than at 16. Then, if they go back and decide to complete their high school diploma, they’ll be much closer to being able to get that path done.”
He pointed out that the law also includes a “work flex” component, allowing students to work parttime while finishing school, a cooperative program with Ivy Tech for high school completion, and greater availability of advanced and remedial high school classes.
Messer called the law an “important start,” and noted that increasing graduation rates requires a variety of strategies.
“In today’s world, we need to start to bend some of our institutions to fit the real-world lives of students we’re trying to serve,” Messer said, noting how he’s learned from Latino community groups that many young Hispanics work late nights and then fail to learn in a classroom at 8 a.m. the next day.
“Not everybody’s life has four homecomings and two proms, right? And we’ve got to figure out some alternatives ways to reach some of these students who live a life that’s a little different than the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ world that we dreamed of decades ago.”
Other experts agreed that alternatives to a standard classroom curriculum and schedule are critical. They stressed that “alternative” doesn’t mean remedial.
A 2006 Gates Foundation survey found that often youth stop going to school because they are bored or don’t find the material taught relevant. Nearly 88 percent of dropouts reported passing grades.
Indiana offers more than 200 publicly funded alternative programs supported with Department of Education funding for 66 counties and 191 school corporations. More than 28,000 students were enrolled in alternative programs in 2006-2007, according to Sue Foxx,(CQ) alternative education consultant for the Indiana Department of Education.
Foxx said that these are among successful alternative program components:
-- Experiential, real-life based learning
-- Challenging, relevant curriculum
-- Personal, diverse, accelerated and flexible instruction
-- Career and job skill building
-- Community service
-- Counseling for individuals, groups and families
“Indiana’s programs are doing well and have had a positive impact on many students,” she said. A recent alternative education study found 66 percent of sixth-12th grade Indiana students in alternative education have had positive educational outcomes. About half of the seniors in these programs received a high school diploma.
“The truth is 30 years ago if you dropped out at the age of 16, you might find a job in a factory or working on a farm and be able to make a working wage for your family,” said Messer.
“But in the modern world, allowing high school students to drop out with that hope is a “false promise.”
Copyright 2008 Y-Press