Monday, January 29, 2007

Dropout rate a crisis for state, experts say

In another post, I'll list the newspapers that covered the dropout conference at the capitol last week.


Jan. 29, 2007, 11:32AM

Dropout rate a crisis for state, experts say
Some estimates show half of all students in urban high schools quit

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

Texas schools lose one student every four minutes. Other data:

25 - 35% of Texas students leave school

50% of students in urban areas drop out

50% of Texas dropouts are black or Hispanic

76% HISD graduation rate for the class of 2005

Source: Texas Public School Attrition Study for 2005-2006 by the Intercultural Development Research Association; Houston Independent School District; Rice University's Center for Education

AUSTIN — At least half of all high school students in the state's urban school districts are dropping out of school, creating a crisis that state leaders are not doing enough to address, some education experts say.

Statewide, each graduating class has at least 120,000 fewer students than started high school, with more than 2.5 million students dropping out during the past 20 years, according to the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Center.

"We really need to raise the alarm on dropouts. The general public thinks that, maybe, there's about a 5 percent dropout rate in Texas — maybe a 20 percent dropout rate in the worst urban schools," said Robert Sanborn, president and chief executive of Houston-based Children At Risk, a research and advocacy group for youths.

Researchers generally agree that Texas' statewide dropout rate hovers around 33 percent, which is about 20 points higher than official statistics compiled by the Texas Education Agency.

The dropout rate is highest for blacks, Hispanics and low-income students — currently about 60 percent, said Eileen Coppola, a researcher at Rice University's Center for Education. "In our major urban districts, we can safely say that it's 50 percent."

"If you live in a city like Dallas or Houston, and half of your kids are not finishing high school, it's a social crisis, because we know that those kids will likely live in poverty, be much more likely to go to jail, and they will have more health problems," Coppola said.

Houston's numbers

The Houston Independent School District reported a 76 percent graduation rate for the class of 2005. The graduation rate is the percentage of freshmen who start high school and finish four years later.
HISD spokesman Terry Abbott has said the district follows state guidelines for reporting its rates, but district officials also have said that the percentage of students who wind up getting a diploma could be as low as 60 percent because some don't even begin high school.

State leaders and lawmakers for years have acknowledged the dropout problem, but critics complain that few resources have been invested to fix it.

"Today is like Groundhog Day. Here we are again. We're going to beat this dead horse one more time, redefine the problem — and then what? I'm not really sure," Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, said during a legislative briefing on the issue last week.

State leaders are aware of the high numbers but focus most of their attention on property tax cuts and other issues, Noriega and others said.

"A consistent dropout rate of 30 to 40 percent becomes, in effect, the state's de facto public policy," Noriega said.

"If our graduation rates in the state are 60 percent, that's our public policy as a state," he said. "We as Texans accept that graduation rate, apparently. That's what we do because that's what it is.

"Public policy is not what we say it is. It's not what is written. It's what's actual," he said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst strongly disagrees with assertions that state leaders aren't doing enough to reduce dropout rates.

But he agrees dropout rates in some urban and border school districts run as high as 60 percent.

"We have a huge problem," he said.

Prevention initiatives

That's why he and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, insisted last year on giving all school districts $275 per high school student for dropout-prevention and college-readiness programs.
But the so-called High School Allotment Program is "not targeted for communities with the greatest need," said Albert Cortez, a director at the Intercultural Development and Research Association.

Dewhurst said he agrees that a more targeted effort is needed.

"I want to focus on programs at your high-risk schools," he said. "How do we keep those at-risk kids in school? We'll be looking at that this session. This is a priority of mine."

Frances Deviney, director for Texas Kids Count — an effort to track the status of children — ticked off myriad ways people with high school diplomas fare better in life than those without.

While it would cost at least $1.7 billion to keep those dropouts in four years of school, she said, the long-term costs for society are much more staggering.

"The 2.5 million students, twice the population of San Antonio, who have dropped out of school in the past 20 years represent $730 billion in lost revenue and costs for the state of Texas," she said, citing an Intercultural Development Research Association report.

Sanborn from Children At Risk said, "There's no defense — period — in terms of how we are allowing these many kids to drop out of school."

If the current trend line is not altered, average household incomes in Texas will decline, according to State Demographer Steve Murdock.

"It's easy to point figures and accuse state leaders of negligence," Shapiro said. "I am open to suggestions all day long. This is a huge public policy issue for me, and I want to make a difference."

Like Dewhurst, Shapiro believes the state's dropout problem is much higher than statistics compiled by the TEA.

Agency officials said they are addressing the concern that the numbers could be low.

"We're working aggressively on many fronts to address the dropout problem," TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said. "We are changing the definition of a dropout, as we were directed to do by the Texas Legislature, and that will increase the official Texas dropout number."

The agency has implemented programs at both the secondary and elementary school levels designed to help students become more successful so they don't consider dropping out, she said.

1 comment: