Recent reports indicate that on the average every 26 seconds another teenager drops out of high school. This translates to more than 3,000 students per school day. Or taking a longer range view, it is estimated that approximately 12 million students will drop out over the next decade or so. Specifically, nearly 1/3 of public high school students end up quitting school. Nearly half of all African-American and Latino students dropout. And, in some cities, it is already worse. truly fewer than half of kids in 17 of the nation’s 50 largest cities graduate. In Cleveland, only 34% of students graduated with their class, in Chicago only 39% graduated, and Indianapolis, only 30% graduated. already worse, in Detroit, according to 2003-2004 data analyzed by America’s potential Alliance, only 25% graduated.
The impact of this situation on our nation is dire. Research has shown that dropouts are half as likely to vote in addition as more likely to experience reduced job and income opportunities, chronic unemployment, and incarceration. however, it is estimated that the government would reap $45 billion in additional tax revenue along with reduced cost in public health, crime, and welfare payments if the number of 20-year-old dropouts in United States were cut in half. It is within this context that the need to reduce the high school dropout rate becomes meaningful.
There are various dropout prevention programs functioning across the United States with varying degrees of success. From my perspective as a mental health consultant, there are three important ways (which all high school students across the United States are entitled to) if implemented would considerably reduce the dropout rate.
Let’s look at the three ways:
1. The school program must be perceived by the students as leading to higher position roles in the future and to future economic realities. In other words, the school programs must have a connection between their school and work either with a future career or at the minimum with a decent paying job with the possibility of advancement after graduation.
2. The school program must be personalized, challenging, and have a sense of community established whereby the relationship between teacher and student are supportive and trusting instead of unhelpful and distrustful. Every high school must be either small enough or divided into small enough units to allow teachers and staff to know the students as individuals and to respond to both their specific learning needs and learning styles.
3. The school program must provide the student with some choice about the character of their academic program and what they are interested in learning. As part of their classroom work, students must have an opportunity to design independent projects, work on group projects, conduct experiments, solve open-ended problems, get involved in activities that connect school and work, and have opportunities to encounter some real psychological and functional success in their endeavors.
In reflecting on my experience as a former high school dropout, if I was in a high school that connected school and work or at the minimum connected school work with a career I was interested in, treated me as an individual, and, allowed me some choice in my academic program, I never would have dropped out. It is the impersonal and alienating character of high school conditions, specifically in the largest cities, that needs to be changed.