Reducing North Carolina’s Dropout Rate: Some Practical Steps

Among the biggest challenges Gov. Perdue faces is improving North Carolina’s education system. Lowering North Carolina’s dropout rate will be one of the new Governor’s top education priorities. Currently, almost 30 percent of students who enter high school fail to graduate four years later. In 2006-07, over 23,500 students dropped out of North Carolina’s public schools.

Earlier this month, the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation issued interim recommendations to help reduce the dropout rate. Several commission recommendations involve the expenditure of additional funds. These include operating funds for 11 new Learn and Earn High Schools, at least 100 more graduation coaches and a new round of funding for dropout prevention grants. Faced with a projected $2 billion deficit, the competition for limited state dollars will be intense. Instead of seeking additional funding for new and unproven programs, lawmakers can take a number of inexpensive steps to help reduce the dropout rate in North Carolina.

Focus Efforts on Ninth Grade

Research shows students in ninth grade are three to five times more likely to drop out. Focusing the major portion of dropout prevention grants on ninth grade would maximize impact.

Provide Principals and Superintendents Additional Flexibility

Schools with high dropout rates are also often low-performing schools. Principals and superintendents need the authority to develop quality teaching staffs and the flexibility to provide appropriate financial incentives.

Change How Dropout Grants are Distributed

Currently $15 million in dropout grants are distributed to school districts on a competitive basis. Over the past year, numerous dropout grants have been awarded to schools whose dropout rates were actually lower than the state average. Why did this happen? This happened because grants frequently went to districts with the best grant writers, and because geographic distribution is a criteria used in awarding grants. In the future, grants should be targeted to areas of highest need. Geography should be dropped as criteria for consideration.

Change How Dropout Prevention Grants Are Evaluated

Under the current legislation (S.L. 2008-107), the committee that distributes dropout prevention grants also evaluates the impact of the grants. Such a system lacks impartiality. A third party evaluation (e.g., Program Evaluation Division of the General Assembly) would warrant a more credible evaluation.

Determine if Current Dropout Prevention Efforts Are Working

North Carolina schools already spend state, federal and local monies on a variety of broadly defined dropout prevention efforts. These programs include funding for such things as at-risk programs, disadvantaged students, literacy coaches and Learn and Earn High Schools. Conservatively speaking, the total dollar amount for such programs surpasses $100 million dollars annually. Despite these investments, over the past five years, the number of dropouts in North Carolina has actually increased from 18,964 to 23,550. As such, an independent review of all dropout-related programs should begin immediately to determine which programs are working and which are not. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund programs that provide no evidence of producing the desired effects.

Provide Incentives to Businesses

Research shows that successful dropout programs involve three components; family members, school representatives and the involvement of the business community. Tax incentives for businesses that employ or mentor workers from dropout transition programs can facilitate this process. Encouraging greater business representation on committees that plan the development of technical education programs or curricula for emerging industries would help to integrate the business community and improve the planning process.

Dropout Rate

This article was posted in Education by Bob Luebke on January 30, 2009 at 5:27 PM.

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Comments on this article

  • 1

    Kent Misegades
    Kent Misegades Feb 04, 2009 at 9:44

    Good article,

    But our government’s solution is mostly about throwing good money after bad. Kids drop out in the ninth grade not due to anything particular about the 9th grade, but because that’s when many of them turn 16, especially those who flunked a grade or more.

    Kids drop out for many reasons, but I’d bet primarily because of failures in grades K-8, especially the early years when they don’t learn to read, write or do basic math. Without those foundations, there is really no hope for them in later years.

    While it pains me to say this, we are wasting our time and money trying to help these kids who are beyond grade 4 or 5 and will probably drop out. It would make far more sense to focus on those in the other end of the pipeline that can yet be saved, i.e. before they start becoming a discipline problem. Some of these 9th graders would probably stay in school if we provided a second track for the trades (like in Germany, Japan, Korea, etc) or military training through HS ROTC. I have personal & professional experience with both topics.

    I encourage your readers to visit one of our new Thales Academies to see how children are taught. Kindergarten students at Thales can already read and write quite well, and the children come from all walks of life and ethnicity. The low $5000 annual tuition makes the schools accessible to most families. Bob Luddy, Civitas Director, is our school’s founder.

    The only true solution to our abysmal government schools is to close them and allow free markets to provide education. Universal vouchers of say $6000-$7000 per year would solve all our needs. Since in Wake County some $10,000 is spent annually per child ($14,000 if you add capital costs), we could cut the state education outlays by 50%, and provide children with a world-class education.

    Universal vouchers, TABOR, Zero-Based Budgeting, FairTax – these are the elements of my vision of America’s future.

    Kent Misegades
    Chairman, Board of Trustees
    Thales Academy – Apex
    President, AeroSouth, Cary

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