Recent efforts to boost graduation rates in U.S. high schools were labeled as “aggressive” in the title of an article run by The Spokesman-Review Monday. This term is misleading. The efforts to bring drop-outs back to high school are not aggressive, but noble.
When 17-year-old Alton Burke dropped out of South Hagerstown High School in Maryland, he missed 200 days of school. Heather Dixon, a student intervention specialist at the high school, brought him back to school by repeatedly going to his house.
Dixon obviously went the extra mile to help Burke graduate from high school. People like Dixon are the reason that the national high school graduation rate has increased. According to research presented at the Grad Nation Summit in Washington on March 19, 2012, the national graduation rate has risen by 3.5 percent from 2001 to 2009.
To prevent students from dropping out, teachers and counselors need to know why students drop out. The Spokesman-Review and intervention specialists attribute most cases to mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, teen pregnancy, as well as bullying. Nowhere in the article does the reporter address one major problem — a lack of motivation.
A survey performed by Civic Enterprises LLC found that 69 percent of students who dropped out left partly because they had no motivation to work for their diploma. Burke, who is now taking night classes in addition to a full class schedule in order to graduate this spring, appears to be a rarity. His strong work ethic does not seem to be indicative of the status quo.
Unlike Dixon, most teachers and school districts do not hold students to high enough standards. The office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) revealed that 2011 and 2012 Washington graduates will not be required to pass a proficiency exam in either math or science to gain a high school diploma. Without the prerequisite knowledge, high school graduates will not have the tools they need to thrive in college.
Math and science classes can be difficult, but schools around the nation provide tutoring programs to give students the tools they need to succeed. But even if the programs are there, they might not be used by the students who need them because they do not have the motivation.
Intervention specialists like Dixon have been able to convince students to return to high school. Now, the public school system needs teachers and counselors who will go the extra mile to get students to work and learn both in and out of the classroom.
If 69 percent of drop-outs left because they had no incentive to earn a high school diploma, the education system needs to find an incentive. According to the article about Burke in The Spokesman-Review, high school graduates will earn significantly more in their lifetimes than drop outs. In the decade of government bailouts, however, earning $130,000 more during their lifetime just might not be enough for high school drop outs.
Burke is a living example of how students can buck the trend. By returning to school, he reclaimed his future. With the work of specialists like Dixon and dedicated teachers, other students can reclaim their future too. The education system just has to learn how to provide the motivation.