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Dropouts: NPR Focuses On Troubling Issue

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Over the past several months, Claudio Sanchez – NPR’s longtime education reporter – has been hard at work assembling a set of stories about dropouts that's going to run all week. As long a project as he’s ever worked on, Sanchez’s quintet of segments comes out of the economic reporting that NPR has already been doing on "Planet Money" – stories that focus on the real-world impact of the recession. In five segments ranging from five to seven minutes each, Sanchez wanted to look at those who were most likely to have been laid off first (or never employed in the first place), and to be unemployed longest (unless jail counts as a form of employment these days).  There are apparently some bright spots – kids making progress and programs doing good things to help kids out and get them a diploma.  But no doubt the dropout issue, like unemployment and poverty, has been off the front burner of domestic policy too long.  Retention and recovery programs get little attention, and accountability and school safety programs create more dropouts as collateral damage. “Suspension and expulsion big contributors to dropouts,” says Sanchez. “Very few states have a handle on that, and schools’ predisposition is to dump people.”Sanchez calls getting accurate honest and up to date data on dropouts “next to impossible” despite several much-touted efforts to do just that. (Recall that in 2005 45 states and the NGA committed to developing a common measure for HS graduation rate.)  It's not strictly an education problem, though of course there are substantial educational implications. 

Monday, July 25 All Things Considered Chicago, IL: Young Black Men Almost half a million black teenagers drop out of school each year. Most will end up unemployed and by their mid-30's six out of 10 black male dropouts will have spent time in prison. Nineteen-year old Patrick Lundvick quit school in 9th grade. He started running with a gang and selling drugs in his Chicagoneighborhood. Within a few years, he was in prison for theft. When he got out, he promised his mother he would change. He's now studying at a special charter school for dropouts and hopes to get his diploma and go to college. But he knows that having a criminal record has damaged his job prospects and he admits that the lure of the streets is still strong.

Tuesday, July 26 Morning Edition San Bernardino CA: Girls The single biggest reason why girls drop out of school is pregnancy. And Latinas have the highest teen pregnancy rates of any racial or ethnic group. These young women often end up with few job skills, more pregnancies, and dependency on unreliable and sometimes violent men. Sanchez profiles Lauren Ortega, a 20-year old mother of two, who is struggling to finish her high school education and torn over whether to stay with the father of her children.

Wednesday, July 26 All Things Considered Seneca, SC: Rural Dropouts When it comes to the dropout crisis, most of the attention goes to schools in poor urban areas. But a fifth of the schools identified by the US Department of Education as "dropout factories" (where no more than 50% of students graduate) are located in rural areas like Oconee County, South Carolina. Many rural dropouts are following a pattern set by parents and grandparents who never finished high school themselves. NPR's Claudio Sanchez introduces us to 16-year old Nick Dunn. Nick hates school and is teetering on the edge of dropping out - just like his father and his four siblings did. But things have changed a lot since his father was young. Oconee County has watched its economy dry up and even adults are struggling to find work. The prospects for a teen without a high school education are practically nil. That’s a message school officials desperately want to convey to their students. But the district has few resources to use to keep kids like Nick in school – and even fewer to offer those who have already left.

Thursday, July 27 Morning Edition Baltimore, MD: At-Risk Kids Studies show that kids who miss a lot of school are at far higher risk of dropping out. In our fourth story, we meet Danny Lamont Jones. Danny's mother is an alcoholic, and his family is chronically homeless. By the time he was 12, Danny had already missed all of sixth grade and much of seventh. Now, at 15, he is teased by his classmates and way behind them academically. He's due to enter 10th grade next fall, but isn't sure he'll go. Officials in Baltimore are trying to intervene early with kids like Danny to try to keep them engaged with school and prevent them from ending up on an inevitable path toward dropping out.

Friday, July 28 Morning Edition Potsville, PA: Older Dropouts Forty-four year old Kenny Buchanan was 18 when he gave up on high school. He had already flunked ninth grade twice and figured he could earn a living without a high school diploma. And for several years, he did. But then he got married and found it harder and harder to find work that could support a family. Before long, employers began refusing to even interview him because he didn't have a diploma. In our final story, Sanchez looks at the impact of a long ago decision to quit school. Sixty percent of the nation's high school dropouts are over 40. Most of them left high school to start working, but few move beyond low paying, dead-end jobs. Only seven percent of dropouts 25 and older have ever made more than $40,000 a year. And in hard economic times, many find that not having a diploma puts them at the end of the employment line.

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Canada and other jurisdictions starting to say, no graduation, no drivers liscence at least until your cohort has graduated.

The lack of a credible vocational education alternative in this country is, I believe, responsible for a sizable amount of our problem with educational self-exclusion. This last term is chosen quite consciously--it is adapted from the French education sociologist Pierre Bourdieu--because all of those young people leaving the old Locke High School were, in effect, saying, "This school has nothing of value for me." This can be connected to a remark of Adam Smith, who points out that schools whose programs are widely considered by the local community to be of value never have any shortage of students. Our traditional public high schools typically have little for a student like Thursday's Danny Lamont Jones to compensate for the humiliation and annoyances that daily school life offers such students.

Doesn't Tennessee have that law too Doug?

It is mentioned in the post that "There are apparently some bright spots – kids making progress and programs doing good things to help kids out and get them a diploma." In fact, the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities has just released three reports on reentry programs which show that these programs are operating all over the country and are helping students not only earn diplomas, but also earn college credits or learn job skills. Programs are offered by a variety of education providers (community-based organizations, adult education programs, community and technical colleges, etc.) and are focusing on meaningful instruction and preparing students for postsecondary education and career paths.

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