Dropouts say: Don’t quit on me

GradNation’s Don’t Quit on Me focuses on the “power of relationships” to keep troubled students in school or persuade them to return, writes John Gomperts in Education Post.

. . . young people told us they need respect, not judgment. They need resources — bus passes, a ride to school, a meal, a job, a chance.

A relationship with a non-family adult can serve as an “anchor,” he writes, but even better is “a web of support.”

Drop out and die young

Dropping out of high school doesn’t just lead to unemployment and poverty, warns a new study. Dropouts die at younger ages, probably because of poor health habits such as smoking and overeating that lead to cardiovascular disease. They’re also more likely to die prematurely as a result of accidents and suicide.

College dropouts also die earlier than people who completed a bachelor’s degree, the study found.

Finishing High School Could Be as Good For You as Quitting Smoking, writes Alia Wong in  The Atlantic. It’s a beautiful example of confusing the symptom with the disease.

The difference in “the number of deaths that we can attribute to finishing high school or not is on par with the difference between current and former smokers,” said (Victoria) Chang, a public-health professor at NYU who focuses on obesity.

The more recent study found that disparities in mortality rates relative to different levels of education grew significantly over time. Encouraging individuals who haven’t finished high school to get their diplomas (or complete their GEDs), “could save twice as many lives among those born in 1945 as compared to those born in 1925,” the study’s press release says.

Ah, the magic diploma! We know that students with “executive function” skills, including impulse control, are more likely to complete high school and college. They’re also less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, tobacco and doughnuts.

Compared to Depression-era dropouts, contemporary dropouts are more likely to be impulsive, eat-the-marshmallow types.

Encouraging young people to learn self-control could raise their odds of earning a diploma and leading a healthy life. But it’s not the diploma.

High school vs. lobstering

Boys start lobstering in their early teens on Deer Isle, Maine. They can be millionaires by age 30. So how do you keep them in high school? asks Sarah Butrymowicz. A marine studies program is showing future fisherman that high school matters.

The island’s small high school had the lowest graduation rate in the state at 57 percent, writes  Now it’s up to 90 percent.

A Deer Isle-Stonington High School student works on a model of a boat hull he created in a marine studies math/science class.  Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

A Deer Isle-Stonington marine studies student builds a model of a boat hull for math/science class. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

Principal Tom West added a 45-minute “intervention” period to help students catch up. Some also are required to attend before- or after-school tutoring.

Then teachers designed courses with a marine studies focus. They talked to marine-based nonprofits and fisherman to see what graduates will need to know, such as how to handle the financial end of a fishing business.

Fifteen-year-old Elliot Nevells, who makes good money lobstering in the summer, was planning to drop out till he enrolled in the marine studies program.

. . . Elliot and the other 15 marine studies students are taking math and earth science with a marine twist. Sometimes that means solving math problems with hands-on projects, like building Styrofoam boat hull models to scale. Other times, the class looks more traditional, with students working their way through algebraic expressions.

“Last year, three-quarters of graduates either enrolled in college or got their lobster license, up from two-thirds the previous year,” writes Butrymowicz.

In addition to marine studies, the school has designed courses with an arts focus and plans to add a pathway for students interested in health careers.

Pass rates plummet on Core-aligned GED

The new Common Core-aligned GED (General Education Diploma) test is much harder — and more expensive, reports Daniel McGraw on Cleveland Scene. Far fewer high school dropouts have taken the test this year and nearly 500,000 fewer have passed the GED.

In 2012, 401,388 people earned a GED. That went up to 540,000 people in 2013, with many rushing to take the test before it changed. This year, only 55,000 have passed.

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

The Seeds of Literacy, a Cleveland nonprofit, helped 131 students pass in the past two years. This year, only two have earned a GED.

At Cleveland’s Project Learn, 29-year-old Derwin Williams has studied all year for the GED, but isn’t ready to take it, reports McGraw. Williams wants to train as a roofer or drywall hanger.

“We are freezing out a large portion of those who would have had a good chance of passing before,” said Robert Bivins, program director of Education at Work at Project Learn.

Like Williams, most GED students want to impress employers or qualify for job training. They’re not aiming at a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Core-aligned exam measures college readiness.

A question from a sample test asks:

Cilia are very thin, hair-like projections from cells. They are 2.0 x 10-4. What is the maximum number of cilia that would fit side by side — without overlapping — across a microscope slide that is 25 millimeters wide?

a. 8.0 x 10-6

b. 1.25 x 10-3

c. 8.0 x 102

d. 1.25 x 105

Is that answerable as written? (Not by me.)

The old GED exam required one personal essay with a question such as: “Who is someone you think is successful and why?” It was graded on sentence structure and grammar.

Now there are two essays evaluated on reasoning.

(A question) asks the tester to read two essays on daylight saving time — one in favor, one against — and then write an essay about which one is better and why.

. . . Another asks a test taker whether a school’s decision to expel a student refusing to salute the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is covered by the freedom of religion or freedom of speech, and how Thomas Jefferson’s writing fits into the question at hand. The essay will be judged, in part, on “your own knowledge of the enduring issue and the circumstances surrounding the case to support your analysis.”

Few are even trying to pass the new GED, says John Eric Humphries, co-author of The Myth of Achievement Tests. “We use the same test” for “a job parking cars as we do for getting into college,” he says.

Some states offer an alternative exam, reports McGraw. Ohio is considering alternatives.

College aid for dropouts?

High school dropouts with college-ready skills lost access to federal student aid in 2012. Now there’s bipartisan support for restoring “ability to benefit” aid for people seeking job skills. Most employers have ceded job training to community and for-profit colleges. There are few non-college paths to a skilled or semi-skilled jobs.

In a Washington Post story on “disconnected” youth — not working or in school — a mentor advises an unemployed parolee who left high school at 14 to take a U.S. history class that could earn him college credits. Doesn’t this guy, who’s trying support a nine-year-old son, need job skills?

Who graduates from college?

Of 100 students from four different income groups who began a two-year or four-year college in 2002, who earned a degree by 2008? asks the Washington Post. (Click the link to check out the nice graphics.) Surprisingly few.

In six years, only 30 students completed a bachelor’s degree. That includes 12 students of 25 from the top quartile in family income ($92,000+) and four of 25 from the bottom quartile (less than $32,000). Another 14 students — two from the top quartile and five from the bottom quartile — earned an associate degree or certificate.

Three high-income students and seven low-income students are among the 21 dropouts. Thirty-five students from all income groups were still trying to complete a degree.

Only 56 percent of the highest-income students, 44 percent of the upper-middle group, 40 percent of lower-middle incomes and 36 percent of the lowest-income students had earned a credential of any kind in six years.

I’m not surprised that students from low-income (and usually poorly educated families) have trouble earning a degree. I’m shocked that middle- and upper-middle-class families get only half their kids through college in six years. Giving full-time students an extra two years to complete a bachelor’s degree raises completion rates by less than 5 percent, according to Complete College America’s Time is the Enemy.

More time, more dropouts

Fifteen Detroit schools lengthened the school day by 24 minutes and the year by 35 days, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report. The state took over the failing schools in 2012.

Southeastern High School of Technology and Law lost 400 students — half its enrollment — in the last two years. About half the missing students transferred, estimates Jeff Maxwell, who recently resigned as principal. The other half dropped out.

“A year-round school with a sound program is a great idea,” said Chris Savage, community activist and author of the Eclectablog. “They need to get their program in order.”

The state’s Education Achievement Authority is trying new approaches.

Grade levels were dropped as teachers were encouraged to divide students strategically and to let them collaborate in small groups. All students use an online curriculum to go through lessons at their own pace.

. . . Computer usage starts with an hour a day in kindergarten, but high schoolers at Southeastern might spend most of the day on netbooks. This means that high school teachers are responsible for monitoring students’ progress and meeting with them one-on-one, rather doing whole-class lectures.

In a daily advising session devoted to social and emotional learning, students discuss topics such as “bullying, fighting and skin color,” writes Butrymowicz.

Students at Southeastern High School of Technology and Law in Detroit discuss their self-esteem during the daily advisory period. The school is using its expanded learning time to address social and emotional issues through group discussions. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Students at Detroit’s Southeastern High discuss their self-esteem during the daily advisory period. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

In the 2012-13 school year, the Education Achievement Authority claimed that 64 percent of students achieved at least a year’s worth of growth in reading and 68 percent did so in math on internal assessments.

But the students’ state standardized test scores told a different story, concluded Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State. He found that 58.5 percent of students showed no reading progress from 2012 to 2013, and 78.3 percent made no gains in math. More than four in five students who scored proficient in math in 2012 did worse in 2013.

Malik Canty, 17, stuck with Southeastern.  He told Butrymowicz he’d read only one book on his own, Percy Jackson and the Titans Curse, in his first 12 years of public school. By graduation this month, he’ll be up to two.

He plans to go on to community college.  Eventually, he’d like to study medicine at the University of Michigan.

Feds will fund adult ed, job training mix

The new workforce bill will make it easier for community colleges to teach basic skills and job skills at the same time. Federal rules have required high school dropouts to catch up academically before starting job training.

CC defaults soar, despite low debt

Default rates are high for community college students, even though tuition is low and most loans are small. That’s because many borrowers don’t complete a degree — and some who do have low earnings.

Childhood’s ‘long shadow’

Only 4 percent of low-income Baltimore children had earned a college degree by age 28, concludes a Johns Hopkins study that followed 790 first graders for 22 years. Forty-five percent of higher-income children went on to earn a degree.

“A family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories,” Johns Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander says The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood.

White men from low-income backgrounds were less likely to attend college, but more likely to find well-paying blue-collar jobs. At age 28, 45 percent were working in construction trades and industrial crafts, compared with 15 percent of black men from similar backgrounds.

At age 18, 89 percent of white dropouts were working compared with 40 percent of black drop-outs.

White women from low-income backgrounds were much more likely than black women to be in stable family unions with a working spouse or partner.

At age 28, 49 percent of black men and 41 percent of white men from low-income backgrounds had a criminal conviction. But whites were much more likely to be working because of their stronger social networks, the study found.