By Jesse Muhammad, Contributing Writer
“When more than one million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem, it’s a catastrophe. said General Colin Powell, founder of America’s Promise Alliance. “It’s time for a national ‘call to arms,’ because we cannot afford to let nearly one-third of our kids fail.” His statement of urgency came during a press conference announcing the release of a study that details why nearly one in three U.S. high school students drops out before graduating and how the group plans to reverse the downward spiral of retention.
“Our economic and national security is at risk when we fail to educate the leaders and the workforce of the future”, added Powell, who’s wife Mrs. Alma Powell serves as the chair of the Alliance.
Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation, prepared by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, was released on April 1. The study unveils that metropolitan areas surrounding thity-five of the nation’s largest cities, graduation rates in urban schools were lower than those in nearby suburban communities. There were also disparities between urban-suburban graduation rates with gaps as large as thirty-five percentage points in many cases. In total, approximately 1.2 million students drop out each year – about 7,000 every school day, or one every 26 seconds. Nearly half of all African-American and Native-American students are expected not to graduate with their class, while less than six in 10 Hispanic students will.
“The number one predictor of a young person’s future success is whether they graduate from high school,” said Mrs. Powell. “But just conferring a diploma is not enough. Students today must graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, work and life. We must invest in the whole child, and that means finding solutions that involve the family, the school and the community.”
Why do students drop out? According to interviews conducted with high school dropouts by Civic Enterprises, nearly half of dropouts said the main reason they left school was because classes were not interesting. Nearly seventy percent said they were not motivated to work hard and two-thirds would have worked harder if more were demanded of them. Approximately one-third left for personal reasons (to get a job, become a parent, or care for a family member) and one-third cited "failing in school" as a major factor. Seventy percent were confident they could have graduated, including a majority with low GPAs. More than eighty percent said their chances of staying in school would have increased if classes were more interesting and provided opportunities for real-world learning. The majority cited that higher expectations from teachers and parents and improved supervision in the classroom would have helped keep them in school.
“I got really bored so I started cutting class to hang out with friends”, said Fallon O’Hagan, who dropped out of school over six years ago. She has since been working as a waitress at two restaurants but desires to get a GED one day. “I was failing most of my classes so I figured it was too late. But if I met any student today who is thinking about dropping out I would tell them that’s not smart.”
Lyle Oats was kicked out of school and turned to drug dealing. “In school everything is a little bit boring and in a box. So I started selling drugs but then I realized I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life since I didn’t have a job or an education.” He is now a student at YouthBuild Just-A-Start in Cambridge, Mass. In YouthBuild programs, low-income young people ages 16-24 work toward their GED or high school diploma, learn job skills and serve their communities by building affordable housing.
A further breakdown analysis by the Alliance showed that those with the lowest graduation rates included Detroit City School District (24.9 percent), Indianapolis Public Schools (30.5 percent), Cleveland Municipal City School District (34.1 percent), Baltimore City Public School System (34.6 percent) and Columbus Public Schools (40.9 percent).
What are the solutions?
Part of the Plan for Graduation Success, compiled by the Alliance, demands accurate graduation and dropout Data; the establishment of early warning systems to support struggling students; adult advocates; rigorous college and work preparatory curriculums; focused research; and making the increase in the high school graduation a national priority.
Over the next two years, the Alliance will host drop-out prevention summits in every state in the country and in select communities. These summits will increase awareness, encourage collaboration and facilitate action in those states and communities that want to improve their graduation rates.
In his book A Torchlight for America, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan writes that, “the problem in today’s education is that the root motivation is the acquisition of wealth and material things rather than cultivation of the human spirit. We must also make changes in the training of teachers and in their teaching schedules, so that they, too, will be able to incorporate sound teaching practices into their daily routines. Recognition of God is the proper beginning point for understanding every discipline. If we cannot honor God, the Supreme Teacher, then how can the children honor their teachers? We have this thing all backwards."