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State of the union – what would keep kids in school until they graduate?

January 24, 2012

In the State of the Union address, president Barack Obama called on states to require students to remain in school until they graduate or turn 18.  Educators know that this is a daunting task; it’s not as if schools haven’t tried to do this.  Simply requiring students to attend school under force of law will not reach all students or families.  What can school leaders do?

We know that alternative education programs , career and technical education, and online education can provide opportunities for students at risk or who otherwise have not been successful in traditional schools.  In anticipation of the reaction from state departments of education, schools and districts can do some preparation:

1. What incentives exist to keep students in school?  What are their incentives for leaving before they finish, and how can schools counter those  incentives?

2. How do schools identify students at-risk in the traditional sense?  Can schools identify students in danger of falling behind on graduation requirements, which can increase the likelihood that they will later drop out of school?

3. What do schools do to retain students who communicate their intention to drop out of school?  Are there partnerships with community agencies to support students who otherwise would not finish school?  Do schools have and exercise the flexibility to change course offerings or programs to meet the needs of at-risk students?

4. How do schools engage families and community partners to support students at-risk of dropping out?  Are there opportunities for students to gain or keep employment while still enrolled in school?

5. What do schools and municipalities do now to maintain school attendance?  Are those efforts working?

6. Are schools punished for retaining students who take longer than four years to complete graduation requirements?  How can these disincentives be restructured or mitigated to encourage schools to provide effective services to students who have already fallen behind?

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