Our Country’s Future Depends on Educated Citizens

March 3, 2010

“In this kind of knowledge economy, giving up on your education and dropping out of school means not only giving up on your future, but it’s also giving up on your family’s future and giving up on your country’s future.”-- President Barack Obama

President Obama plans to invest $900 million of the fiscal year 2011 budget in strategies to get high school graduation rates up, transform the schools by bringing in new staff and training teachers to use better techniques in the classroom.  He has enlisted, Gen. Colin Powell to work with this campaign called Grad Nation which is a 10-year effort that aims to mobilize more high school graduates to attend college and reverse the high school drop out rate.

As a 37-year veteran of public education--the last 13 as a high school guidance counselor, I would like to offer the following suggestions:

1.  Increase funding for school corporations so that they can hire more teachers and limit class sizes.  These at-risk students need more one-on-one attention.  No teacher can give them the time they need in a large class. 

2.  Increase the funding for vocational schools, update and expand these programs to provide the skills needed in today’s society.  Allow students to begin vocational training at a younger age.  Not all students have the interest and/or ability to succeed in traditional academic classes.  It has been my experience that if I could encourage a student to “hang in there” until his/her eleventh grade year when they could begin vocational school in the school system where I worked, they would most likely graduate.  However, many are lost before they reach that point. 

3.  Hold parents accountable for seeing that their children attend school.  Many students are behind in their learning because they missed too much school.  Doctor’s verification should be required if a student misses beyond a few days per year. A child cannot learn if they are not in school.

4.  Graduation requirements need to fit the ability of the student.  Many students drop out because of the increased requirements (especially in math) and their problem with passing the Graduation Qualifying Test.  The State of Indiana has the Academic Honors Diploma and the Core 40 Diploma which as designated on their transcript show that the student has pursued a rigorous college preparation curriculum.  However, to get even a Traditional Diploma a student must pass two years of college preparation level math and pass both parts of the GQE.  This is the reason some students become discouraged and drop out. A student on a traditional diploma should be required to enroll in some kind of vocational education.  Because of the cuts in funding, many of the useful electives these students would have available have been removed from the curriculum.

5.  This one is the major piece in the school dropout puzzle. It is the one over which schools have no control.  Unstable home environments are the major root cause of school dropout rates.  Nearly every student that I have seen who dropped out of school before graduation came from a conflicted home situation. Many of these students have moved from one school to another often in the middle of the year.  They have lost the continuity necessary for real mastery to take place.  Many have gone from one home situation to another and feel that no one wants them or really cares about them.  They have not learned the importance of self-discipline, motivation, and work ethic.  They don’t see a purpose to getting an education.  Schools are judged by the test scores of students who come to them with these problems. This is the piece that is most frustrating to educators and the one over which they have the least control.  However, the above suggestions would give the schools more tools to encourage these students to graduate with skills needed in today’s society.