Thursday, June 10, 2010

Calculations of the Cost of Dropouts

An organization called the Alliance for Excellent Education has just released a study on the cost to the economy and taxpayers of an area when significant numbers of students fail to graduate. Click on this link to read the news story from The Advocate on this crisis that affects the Baton Rouge metropolitan area. Also the web site for the Alliance for Excellent Education contains information and research covering many cities in the U.S. What we learn from such studies is that we can no longer afford to allow so many students to leave our public schools without a solid education and a high school diploma. If we don't solve this problem, we will continue to pay more for public assistance and for crime and punishment.
My concern is that most of Louisiana's efforts to reduce dropouts focuses on remediation of students who have fallen behind in academic areas. The results of a “remediation only” approach are not good. Recently BESE revised the requirements for 4th grade retention because the overwhelming evidence was that grade retention does not help students to catch up and succeed in school. Also it is not true that “raising the bar” (the requirements for LEAP promotion) at the eighth grade level has motivated students to do better in school.

The most important and most neglected factor for success in school can be summarized by one word: Motivation. A huge percentage of Louisiana students are not motivated to succeed in school. To put it another way, many students do not see the connection between success in school and success in life. As a result they do not see the need to do the work needed to achieve a diploma. These students are immersed in a culture of poverty where there are so few role models leading productive and prosperous lives that they have difficulty imagining a better course for their lives.

The good news is that schools are emerging in all over the US that focus much more on student motivation and goal oriented instruction. Some of these schools are Charter schools that have adopted a College Prep orientation. They can also include some magnet schools and public community schools such as the Zachary Community schools. All of these schools have one thing in common: They attempt to instill in each student the excitement and joy of academic success. They use mentoring and job shadowing to connect school to careers. These schools insist on strict discipline and focus on academics. They celebrate and reward academic success at least as much as some schools reward athletic success. They build a culture of academic success and they connect the ideal of success in school to success in life. That's the proper use of motivation!

While I do not agree with a strict focus on College prep, I do believe that all schools should seek to motivate students by making the connection between school and careers. Over many years of strict focus on subject matter in our schools we have neglected to make these connections with real life. If we continue to focus strictly on academic remediation without the necessary motivation of students we will continue to struggle with failing students.