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Sunday, November 16, 2008

2,500 Texans drop out each week

By Lindsay Kastner | San Antonio Express-News
October 22, 2008

Every four minutes a student drops out of a Texas public school, according to a new report from the Intercultural Development Research Association. That means that, across the state, one-third of the students who began high school in fall 2004 left without a diploma before the end of the 2008 school year.

The San Antonio-based IDRA has tracked school dropout rates for more than 20 years and says this year's numbers are no better than when the organization released its first report in 1986.

In Bexar County, where the 40 percent attrition rate is higher than the state figures, 10,363 students in the Class of 2008 left school without a diploma. The vast majority were minorities.

“If you look at where minority students go to school, you would see that too often minority students are concentrated and segregated in schools where there are fewer resources,” IDRA President Maria Robledo Montecel said.

Robledo Montecel said schools need a more equitable funding system so they can recruit experienced teachers and foster more meaningful parent and community involvement if they are to do a better job of keeping students in school.

“One of the most fundamental reasons for which students leave school is that they feel disconnected,” she said.

That dropouts remain such a vexing problem has begun to catch the attention of officials outside the education sphere.

Last month, mayors around Texas partnered with local schools and went walking door-to-door to persuade dropouts to return to school.

Mayor Phil Hardberger led the charge here, in partnership with the San Antonio Independent School District. A legion of volunteers knocked on more than 1,000 doors and made contact with nearly 500 students.

Since the walk, 100 students have returned to school. Thirty re-enrolled that day.

Hardberger called Tuesday's report “disheartening.”

“It's clear that dropout efforts over the last 20 years haven't resulted in real solutions,” he said. “That's why this latest effort to meet kids where they are, through face-to-face contact, is so important.”

He has said an educated work force drives the city's economic engine and, on the day of the walk, he persuaded two young women to return to Brackenridge High School.

But both are struggling to stay in school.

One of them, 17-year-old Yolanda Sanchez, started off thrilled at the prospect of an education. She made new friends and sought help with her homework from adults at her church.

“I have friends who actually go to class,” she said shortly after returning to school. “I actually do homework, which I never did.”

But the family pressures that prompted Yolanda to drop out last spring never went away, and starting school two weeks late meant she was immediately behind the other students.

Staffers at Brackenridge have tried to help. An attendance officer keeps tabs on Yolanda, and Principal Linda Marsh bought her a uniform. But then her mother was hospitalized, and Yolanda's absences began to pile up.

She said Tuesday that she plans to be back in school today.

“Some of these campaigns are aimed at recovering students that have dropped out, but they soon fail because the students are brought back into the same system that disengaged them in the first place,” Robledo Montecel said.

Still, she said she is encouraged by the mayor's focus on dropouts.

“I'm glad that there is in San Antonio a recognition of the need to address the issue,” she said.

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