Reducing North Carolina’s embarrassingly high dropout rate has been an issue that has been much in the news lately. Over 23,500 students dropped out of North Carolina schools in 2006-07. Last week, the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation developed ten recommendations to submit to the Legislature for consideration. (No these recommendations aren’t available online. Maybe commission co-chairs State Senator Vernon Malone or State Rep. Earline Parmon can tell you why). Aside from a recommendation to evaluate the effectiveness of dropout prevention grants –in my view, a good idea — the recommendations are as disappointing as the problem they are trying to correct. They provide nothing new and fail to offer the slightest suggestion that we’re in any way getting a handle on this problem. Recommendations like developing a system of sharing Information about dropouts (Recommendation 1), fostering a better school climate and safety (Recommendation 5) and urging more rigorous academic courses and less remediation (Recommendation 6) are vague and lack impact.
My favorite is recommendation # 4 titled, Parental Involvement and Communication Between Schools and parents. The text continues:
"The Commission believes that parental involvement is important to student educational achievement. . . The Commission believes that it is critical that parents be informed about a school’s expectations for students. . . The Commission encourages principals, teachers and Parent Teacher Association’s (PTAs) to develop methods to reach out to parents and guardians to involve them in student learning at home and school.”
All fine and good, but aren’t these recommendations suppose to be targeted on reducing the dropout rate? In another paragraph the Commission recommends in draft legislation that the Assembly appropriate funds for a dropout prevention coordinator in each high school that failed to attain a 65 percent 4-year cohort graduation rate.
This is a bad idea. Last I counted, there are 147 public high schools in North Carolina that failed to achieve a 65 percent cohort graduation rate — about 37 percent of the High Schools in North Carolina. A call to the NC Department of Public Instruction confirms that although in some districts the dropout coordinator may have additional responsibilities, nearly all school districts already have a dropout coordinator.
Before spending additional funds, wouldn’t it be better to evaluate the effectiveness of these positions? Why bring in more staff if we don’t even know if dropout programs are working? Aside from the cost, adding dropout coordinators to troubled schools also seems to ignore the iron rule of the bureaucracy: bureaucracies work to expand their power and influence. Will a dropout coordinator really work to put themselves out of job? Seems to me a better option is to use incentives. Appropriate financial incentives for dropout coordinators and principals and added flexibility regarding the use of existing resources and staffing would do far more to reduce the dropout rate. Now if only the Joint Legislative Commission believed the same we’d be making real progress.