WVXU (91.7 FM) today added to the recent flurry of attention in Cincinnati to the issue of high school dropouts. I joined Cincinnati Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Anthony Smith and Civic Enterprises President and CEO John Bridgeland on Impact Cincinnati this morning as part of the public radio’s station series on high school dropout issues.
We examined the progress and the problems of having 20,000 or so Ohio students dropping out each year from high school. If those dropouts were enrolled in their own school district, they would be Ohio’s sixth-largest district.
Dropping out of high school remains a big issue for the state and nation, as well as for the student. High school dropouts earn $260,000 less over their lifetime compared to high school graduates, and most of the fast-growing jobs require not only a high school diploma but college-level training and degrees. That loss in earning power hurts the state economy, due to loss in tax dollars and an increase in social supports for those who have dropped out.
That’s why the state’s lack of success in curbing its dropout rate is so distressing. The Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this month reported that Ohio experienced the second-biggest increase in its dropout rate compared to other states between 2002 and 2009. Only Illinois’ rate increased more.
We ourselves looked at dropout rates in 2009 in a report entitled “The Pursuit of High-Quality High Schools” and found that Ohio’s high school dropout rate increased from 13.8% in 2005 to 15.2% in 2008 – a period of time following the states’ declaration that reducing the dropout rate would be a priority.
The lack of statewide progress is contrasted to the success in some districts. My colleague, Harold Brown, President of EDWorks, and I noted last weekend in a commentary published in the Enquirer that 11 Ohio school districts that participated in the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative increased their graduation rates 32 percent from 2002 to 2008 at a time when the state graduation rate barely budged by 2 percent.
We noted that this high school redesign, led by KnowledgeWorks, focused on creating learning conditions that allowed for personalized education – teachers and other adults who could get to know their students and have time in the school day to engage in deep learning. Educators had high expectations for their students, and they had the professional development and on-site coaching to keep focused on relevant instruction.
Sadly, due to a lack of follow-through by successive administrations, the focus on high school dropouts waned and this work – as well as the success in Cincinnati – was never spread around the state. Under a federal Race to the Top grant, the state is attempting to focus again on the worst “dropout factory” high schools, and progress is promising thus far.
The issue will get more attention in Cincinnati. On June 7, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber hosts an event, “Dropout Nation: The Silent Epidemic” at the Cintas Center, featuring national and local experts discussing the problem and potential solutions. John Bridgeland, who joined me on WVXU this morning, will be the keynote speaker.
I am hoping that all of this attention will lead to some additional action that will curb the problem.