The Dropout Report: Success stories
Tulsa isn’t alone when it comes to the dropout problem — it is one of many cities and states dedicated to finding a solution.
Detroit makes big changes
As Mayor Kathy Taylor pointed out in Tulsa’s 2008 Dropout Prevention Summit Report, the dropout crisis is not a problem unique to Tulsa. Nearly one in three U.S. high school students fails to graduate with a diploma, according to America’s Promise Alliance (APA), who coordinated Tulsa’s summit.
Fortunately, APA is working with cities and states across the country to identify contributing issues and dropout prevention solutions for areas with some of the lowest U.S. graduation rates. Detroit, the first city to host a Dropout Prevention Summit, is home to one of APA’s most significant success stories, says Colleen Wilber, senior director of APA media relations.
Detroit had a 37.5 percent graduation rate in 2005, according to APA’s Cities in Crisis 2009 report. In fact, because Detroit’s graduation rates were the worst in the nation, researchers from Johns Hopkins University came up with the title “dropout factors” to describe 2,000 high schools that had graduation rates of 60 percent or less for three-plus years, according to Michael Tenbusch, vice president of educational preparedness for the United Way of Southeast Michigan, who helped plan the April 2008 Detroit conference.
Between 75 percent and 85 percent of Detroit’s students receive free or reduced lunches, and Tenbusch notes that a key issue has been the inability of each school’s administrators to meet students’ needs quickly and adequately. Detroit is working to increase its site-based management to give principals the ability and accountability to control their budget and set the curriculum.
At its summit, Detroit also set a 10-year goal to graduate 80 percent of its youth from the 35 high schools that reported dropout rates of 40 percent or greater.
To support this effort, the United Way partnered with foundations and civic groups to announce the creation of The Greater Detroit Venture Fund, a $10 million fund to assist these schools and improve test scores to ensure students are better prepared for college.
The fund is designed to help transform large high schools with high dropout rates into smaller, personalized learning environments with increased student achievement, according to Detroit’s Dropout Prevention Action Plan. Just one year since its summit, the city has already shuttered, reconstituted or clustered 11 of its 35 struggling schools as part of a comprehensive turn-around process, Wilber says.
Like Tulsa, Detroit has identified strong student-teacher relationships as one of the most important keys to dropout prevention, Tenbusch says. He also adds that positive peer pressure should not be underestimated when trying to keep students on college tracks.
“What we’ve learned about high-performing, high-poverty schools is that the power of that relationship is not only teacher-to-kids, but it’s the impact of keeping the same 15-20 kids together for four years,” he says.
Closing the graduation gap
Other cities and states are following the leads of Detroit and Tulsa to identify and execute a variety of short- and long-range dropout prevention plans. They include:
- Louisiana set a goal to achieve a graduation rate of greater than 80 percent by the close of the 2015-16 school year.
- Mississippi school districts are now required to generate dropout plans.
- Iowa communities are developing 16 action plans to reduce the rate of minority dropouts.
- New Jersey launched a yearlong dropout prevention initiative. APA had hosted 35 U.S.
Dropout Prevention Summits (22 state and 13 city) by May 2009, bringing together more than 14,000 people from every sector, including youth, parents, schools, policymakers, business and faith leaders to create action plans to reduce dropout rates. APA has pledged to coordinate more than 100 total summits by April 2010, Wilber says.