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article imageBehind America’s High School Dropout Crisis

By David Silverberg     May 9, 2007 in World
It’s been called the silent epidemic. It’s been called a national crisis. Soaring dropout rates are forcing Americans to look deep into their education system to find out what should be done to keep kids in school. If it’s broke, it’s time fix it.
Digital Journal — Today, a summit is taking place in Washington to address an issue barely making headlines on the front page: High school dropout rates in the U.S. are a serious cause for concern. The Christian Science Monitor points to a sobering statistic: About three out of 10 American ninth-graders don’t graduate with their class, with that number sky-rocketing for African-Americans and Hispanics.
If that statistic doesn’t drop your jaw, here’s another one: Dropouts earn $9,200 US less per year than high school graduates and more than $1 million US less over a lifetime than college graduates.
“We’ve been asleep at the switch for a number of decades,” says John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, the public policy group leading the summit. “And now for the first time ... we’re potentially on the cusp of really grabbing hold of this dropout issue and doing something meaningful about it.”
High-profile names are lending their support to the cause. First Lady Laura Bush opened the National Summit to End America’s Silent Dropout Epidemic with a call for action: “I urge all Americans — especially parents — to be active participants in your children’s education. Find out if your community has a dropout problem. Be vigilant about warning signs in your own children, like increased absences and declining grades. Start preparing your children for high school early, by making sure they learn to read.”
MTV is also joining the fray, premiering tonight The Dropout Chronicles, which follows teens as they chat with counsellors and struggle to earn their last credits. The documentary also directs viewers to a website full of resources ideal for students thinking about applying to colleges.
In 2006, First Lady Laura Bush earned the Father Flanagan Award for Service to Youth for her efforts with the Helping America's Youth Initiative. - PRNewsFoto
TV isn’t going to save potential dropouts, though. To find the root of the crisis, we have to discover what it is about school that turns off these kids. Already, some answers are leaking out.
Policymakers and education analysts point out that high school needs to offer a more engaging experience than it does today. In his report, Bridgeland found “many students longed for service-learning, internships, theme-based classes,” he says. Also, two-thirds said they would’ve worked harder if more were demanded of them.
Bridgeland’s report also listed the top reasons why high school kids drop out. The top reason was “Classes were not interesting.” It’s a statement full of implications for the future: When schools fail to reign in a kid’s attention, the core purpose of education fails. How can a student prepare for university, or for a job, when schools merely regurgitate curriculum ad nauseam?
In Canada, my home country, we’re not facing a crisis of American proportions. In fact, the most recent statistics found the high school dropout rate has fallen to 9.8 per cent in 2005, compared to 16.7 per cent in 1991. Not such a bad scenario, right?
Numbers shouldn’t be the only evidence to prove our educational system is failing us. When I attended high school, I remembered the classrooms as being stale carbon-copies of each other. There was little pizzazz, barely any energy coming from the teachers, and internships or workplace experience were almost never suggested. Although practically everyone I knew didn’t drop out, some friends complained the high school experience wasn’t challenging. It didn’t take their intellect to the next level, and the curriculum was followed without any deviation or flavour.
If American education leaders want to curb dropout rates, they’ll need to do a lengthy self-analysis of what they’re doing wrong. Taking a no-bullshit approach will allow them to examine every bland assignment and board initiative that’s failing to interest students. A Washington summit, combined with an MTV series, is a good first step.
But in order to take action beyond a week in May, school administrators need to overhaul what they do before more children are left behind.
More about Dropouts, High school, Education, Laura bush
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