It’s great that the Colorado Children’s Campaign and others are once again beating the drum about Colorado’s little known and ridiculously expensive dropout problem. In Donnell-Kay’s excellent report there is good analysis of the problem and a great set of recommendations for changing the tide by creating early warning systems and developing new alternative schools to recapture students.
My one critique of this work is that there appears little or no discussion of a root cause of the problem, our big dysfunctional middle and high schools. Any work on solving the dropout problem needs to take a close look at the school system that is generating the dropouts. A significant number of dropouts could be reduced by having secondary schools where adults were responsible for really knowing kids and supporting every student’s learning. And by the way, we know this is possible now.
A number of Denver Metro high schools (Westminster, North, West, North, Hinckley, East, Lincoln, etc) have grade 9 to 12 cohort graduation rates of about 50% or less . Several of these Colorado “dropout factories” are graduating less than one third of the students that enter.
Can you imagine having a hospital that was only designed for one third of the patients to leave healthy? Think of the size of the morgue. Trying to tweak these monolithic urban secondary school systems that were never intended to have more than one third of kids prepared for college is hardly a winning strategy for building strong twenty-first century economies and communities.
I doubt that we will be able to make much of a dent in the numbers until we come back to the fundamental question of how secondary schools should be designed to support every student to graduate ready for college. We can’t afford not to follow Donnell Kay’s recommendations, while simultaneously and dramatically increasing our efforts to create new secondary schools where the vast majority of kids stay engaged and get prepared for college.
If we do not address the more fundamental issues of school design and systems in our middle and high schools, we will be do little than add a few band aids to a very broken system.
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