Requiring attendance won’t cut dropouts

“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better,” said President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union address. “So tonight, I am proposing that every state, every state, requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Raising the compulsory school attendance age wouldn’t raise high school graduation rates, concludes a Brookings Institution analysis by Russ Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield. States that require attendance till 18 don’t have higher graduation rates than states that let students quit at 16 or 17. In fact, states with a higher attendance age have slightly lower graduation rates, even with controls for “state demographics that correlate with graduation rates (e.g., the racial composition of the student population).”

“Compulsory” attendance is a “misnomer,” they write. Teens drop out when they feel like it, regardless of the law.

There are effective interventions for high-risk students, the researchers write. For example, “Check and Connect, a dropout prevention strategy that relies on close monitoring of school performance, as well as mentoring, case management, and other supports, results in a substantially increased likelihood of students staying in school.”


Amnesty doesn’t require college, military service

President Obama’s quasi-amnesty for young illegal immigrants doesn’t require college attendance or military service, according to Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano’s memo. Applicants who came illegally by age 16 and are 30 or younger must pass a background check showing no felonies or multiple misdemeanors. In addition, the applicant must be: “currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the  United States.”  Those who qualify will be able to get two-year work permits renewable indefinitely.

“In school” seems to refer to high school. Would dropouts qualify if they enroll in GED or basic skills classes at a community college?  Do they have to pass their classes?

The military provision is a bit puzzling: Illegal immigrants aren’t eligible to serve in the military. However, a few use fraudulent papers to enlist. The order doesn’t say whether those who qualify for temporary work permits will be allowed to serve in the military. If so, would their service qualify them for citizenship?  I can’t imagine denying citizenship to military veterans.

In May, speaking at the commencement of Miami Dade College‘s commencement ceremonies, President Obama reaffirmed his support for the Dream Act, which provides a path to citizenship for young immigrants who complete two years of college or serve in the military in the six years after qualifying for conditional legal status. The executive order, which doesn’t promise citizenship, sets a much lower bar.

Future prep

College prep for all is failing many students, writes Time‘s Joe Klein in Learning That Works, a rousing endorsement of vocational education. Seen as “a convenient dumping ground for minority kids,” voc ed was abandoned. Schools adopted “the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school.”

The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%.

“College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running.

What’s now called career and technical education (CTE) can be done so well that it motivates low and average achievers and attracts high achievers, Klein writes.

About 27% of the students in Arizona opt for the tech-ed path, and they are more likely to score higher on the state’s aptitude tests, graduate from high school and go on to higher education than those who don’t. “It’s not rocket science,” says Sally Downey, superintendent of the spectacular East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz., 98.5% of whose students graduate from high school. “It’s just finding something they like and teaching it to them with rigor.”

Auto dealers, who are desperate for trained technicians, donate cars and high-tech equipment to the school’s auto shop classes. “If you can master the computer-science and electronic components,” Downey says, “you can make over $100,000 a year as an auto mechanic.”

As college costs soar and college dropout rates remain high, career tech is looking better and better.

Shelbyville’s plan to prevent dropouts

Shelbyville, Indiana made Time‘s Dropout Nation cover in 2006 with a 75 percent graduation rate. Learning Matters TV looks at what the town is doing to prevent dropouts, including offering online “credit recovery.”

Why no gains in 12th-grade math?

Math scores are improving, especially among low-performing students, in elementary and middle school, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. But high school math scores haven’t moved much. And reading scores have declined in high school. Are increased graduation rates to blame?

One hypothesis is about fade-out: The improvements at the elementary level are ephemeral, perhaps because the way math or reading is taught doesn’t set students up for future success. In reading, for example, it’s quite likely that a heavy focus on phonics is helping students to decode better—and post better scores as nine-year-olds—but isn’t giving them the vocabulary or content knowledge to keep making progress in middle school. Another hypothesis is that our high schools aren’t as strong as our elementary schools, perhaps because they haven’t been the focus of as much reform and attention.

Higher graduation rates could be a factor too, Petrilli writes. “We have twelfth-graders in school today who previously would have dropped out. And those students are likely to be very low-achieving.”


LA requires college prep, but a D will do

Eight years ago, under pressure to qualify more Latino and black students for college, Los Angeles Unified’s school board voted to make the college-prep courses required by state universities a graduation requirement.  That policy goes into effect for ninth graders this fall. Fearing massive dropouts, district officials propose to let students graduate with 25 percent fewer credits, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students could pass with a D, even though the state universities require a C or better in what’s known as A-G classes for admission.

Currently, a student must earn 230 credits to graduate. Under the proposal, that requirement would be reduced to 170 credits, the minimum set by the California Department of Education. Among the requirements to be dropped are: health/life skills, technology and electives that cover a broad range of subjects, including calculus and journalism.

. . . Students who pass all their classes typically would earn a minimum 180 credits by the end of their junior year.

District officials hope to require students to earn at least a C in college-prep courses starting with the class of 2017.

Some argue that students benefit from taking college-prep courses, even if they scrape by with a D.

“These courses are the markers of a more rigorous curriculum,” said USC education professor Guilbert Hentschke. Since most students don’t attend a four-year university, a college-prep curriculum also “should have a giant effect on success in a two-year community college,” Hentschke said.

With fewer credits required for graduation, students will be able to retake classes they’ve failed — advanced algebra is a killer — during the school day, officials say.

In 2011, nearly half of graduating seniors failed to complete the A-G classes. Many students had dropped out by then. Fifteen percent of those who started high school four years earlier were eligible for state universities.

Requiring all students to pass the A-G requirements was “magical thinking,” not leadership, editorializes the Times.

D students will not succeed in community college. They’ll end up in the Bermuda Triangle of higher education — remedial math, writing and reading — from which few emerge with a degree or even with the ability to pass a single college-level class. Sadly, most C students don’t qualify for college-level classes at community colleges or state universities. If teachers lower expectations — inevitable when they’re teaching lots of poorly prepared students — the B students are likely to end up in remedial classes too.

Low college grad rates have high costs

High dropout rates at community colleges are costly for students and taxpayers, concludes an American Enterprise Institute report.

The report is “shoddy” and “pseudo-academic” counters the American Association of Community Colleges, which contends success rates — including transfers — are higher than the AEI’s estimates.

Late graduation pays off

It’s better to graduate late than to earn a GED, concludes a Center for Public Education study. Late graduates do significantly better than GED recipients in education, work, health and civic participation.

. . . when the data is controlled to compare students of equivalent socioeconomic status and achievement level, late graduates come close to on-time graduates’ achievement.

In high school, late graduates earned higher grades than dropouts but similar test scores. Persistence, rather than academic ability, is the difference.

Late graduates are slightly more likely than GED recipients to enroll in college (59 percent vs. 51 percent), but much more likely to complete an associate or bachelor degree. Again, they persist.

More late graduates than GED recipients and dropouts are employed and more hold full-time jobs. Late graduates are also less likely to earn incomes at the low end of the income scale.

Persistence shows up again in voting.

Although late graduates are no more likely to be registered to vote than GED recipients, late graduates are significantly more likely to have voted in a recent election (40 percent versus 29 percent).

Late graduates also exercise more and smoke less than GED recipients and dropouts.

“Dropout recovery” programs that make it easy for students to make up credits may not support the character traits that lead to greater success for high school graduates.

‘You didn’t finish high school? Start college!’

“You didn’t graduate from high school? Start college today!”  With that slogan, a low-income, nearly all Hispanic Texas school district is persuading dropouts to enroll in a center that lets them start job training while finishing high school, transitioning to college courses when ready. By the end of ninth grade, all students can choose a career pathway and take “early college” classes.

Neediest students will lose federal aid

People who lack a high school diploma or GED will lose college aid eligibility on July 1. Currently, they can prove their “ability to benefit” from college classes by passing a test of earning six college credits. The new federal budget cuts aid to these students to save Pell Grant money.

Community colleges are cutting programs, such as sports teams and enrichment classes, to save money.