Brief hiatus

I’ll be away from home for a little over two weeks, and my access to the internet will be very limited, so I apologize to the readers of my fledgling blog that there will not be much in the way of new content during that stretch of time.

Of course, when I return, I have much more to write about, so expect a blitz.

–Daniel Jack Williamson

Ohio’s dropouts

It’s about males.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago at Lorain County Community College, I attended the Hispanic Leadership Conference (which I’ll detail more in a future posting). During the conference, one of the workshops I attended was titled “Closing the Achievement Gap.”  The presenter was Nelson Ramirez, formerly a director at two non-profits: Lorain County Community Action Agency (which, among other things, administers Lorain County’s Head Start program); and El Centro de Servicios Sociales, a social service agency serving Lorain’s Hispanic community.  Currently, Nelson Ramirez is a Project Manager in Governor Ted Strickland’s administration who has been assigned to work on an initiative to close the achievement gap among the various population groups in Ohio’s primary and secondary schools.  A great deal of emphasis is being placed on improving high school dropout rates and lobbying the General Assembly for including these initiatives in the biennial budgets.

More than a dozen countries lead the USA with higher high school graduation rates, which is sobering considering that the world’s superpower isn’t leading the pack.  While Ohio’s graduation rate is higher than the nation’s average, there are glaring discrepancies between population groups. One might expect, just from anecdotal evidence, that Hispanics and African-Americans lag behind Caucasians in high school graduation rates.  There’s more to it, though.  Across all racial/ethnic lines, there is a gender dimension to the dropout rate, with males dropping out at a much higher rate than females, and that’s where it becomes all about the males.

To be sure, female dropouts do have troubles of their own, while dropouts of both genders earn less than those who have higher levels of education (and thus pay less in taxes), female high school dropouts have lower per capita incomes as adults than do their male dropout counterparts.  But though female high school dropouts may need to rely on government social programs like WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid, they don’t cost Ohio nearly as much per person in government expenditures as male dropouts do.  That’s because male dropouts have a significantly disproportionate tendency to become imprisoned.

Currently, about 24% of all Ohio teens are dropping out.  High school dropouts comprise nearly 75% of the inmate population at state prisons.  **gulp**

It is estimated that the average high school dropout in the criminal system (ONE individual–am I being redundant?) will require the state to shell out $1.5 million to $1.8 million over the course of that dropout’s lifetime as a direct consequence of that dropout’s criminal activity, alone.  That’s just the cost of the criminal activity IF there is no drug abuse being factored in.  If there is a drug addiction problem, add in a few hundred thousand more, and that the overall cost over a lifetime will balloon to $2.3 million.

Along with the gender and racial/ethnic dimensions of Ohio’s dropout rate, there is a geographic dimension, too, as one might expect since African-Americans and Hispanics are not uniformly spread throughout Ohio’s population in rural, suburban, and urban settings.  As one would expect, dropout rates are usually higher in urban settings, and this leads us to a new statistic: poor performing high schools, or “dropout factories,” which are high schools that graduate 60% or less of each incoming freshman class.  80% of the nation’s dropout factories are located in 15 states, which means the other 35 states are home to only 20% of the nation’s dropout factories.  Ohio is in the group of 15 states.  In Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinnati school districts, at least half of the high schools are dropout factories.  **gulp**  60% of Ohio’s African-Americans attend dropout factories.  **gulp**  Therefore, the target of the initiative to improve Ohio’s graduation rates is primarily the African-American male high school freshman.

It is relatively easy to predict who is most likely to drop out.  They are already lagging behind classmates in the 4th grade.  A 3rd grade reading level is the point of divergence between those that are likely to graduate and those that are likely to drop out.

Of course, dropping out is an individual decision.  Only 22% of dropouts believe that they were not personally responsible for dropping out.  The reasons given for dropping out include: they didn’t find classes interesting; they missed too many days of school and couldn’t catch up; they spent much of their time with people who weren’t interested in school; they had were given wide latitude in whatever they chose to do with very few ground rules laid down by their parents/guardians; they were failing in school; real life events got in the way of school; and parents/guardians tried to become involved way too late in the educational process.

The strategies outlined in Governor Strickland’s initiative to improve the graduation rate (beyond identifying the key population groups) are:

  • Attendance and behavior monitors
  • Focus on achievement in core courses
  • Tutoring as an academic support
  • Counseling/Mentoring
  • Small learning communities for greater personalization (such as school within a school)
  • Catch-up courses
  • Homeroom, teams, or looping
  • Ninth Grade Academies or transition programs
  • Tiered approach to providing behavioral and/or academic support
  • Focus on positive effects for diverse students
  • Focus on positive effects for students with disabilities
  • Career/College awareness
  • Family engagement
  • Community engagement
  • Ensuring partnerships between high schools and feeder middle schools

The attempt to intervene with these actions is taking place at the boundaries between 8th and 9th and 10th grades.  Naturally, I pointed out that the challenges could be addressed in much earlier years in a child’s education.  There is a desire by the Governor’s administration to address these challenges in earlier years, but so far, they are working to at least get the ball rolling, and this is their starting point.  The chief argument being used in lobbying the General Assembly for appropriations for this initiative is that it is less costly to the state than taking no action to reduce the dropout rate.

Over all, Nelson Ramirez gave a very thought-provoking lecture that concluded with vigorous discussion, as you might imagine.