Administrators: Focused effort on Wake County dropouts, absentees is working

Posted June 8, 2010

— A focused effort by "professional learning teams" that target suspended students is part of a concerted plan to reduce the dropout rate from Wake County schools and to raise the percentage of students who graduate high school on time, administrators told a school board committee Tuesday.

A next step, the central office planners told the board's Student Achievement Committee, is to review the way suspensions are handed out for conduct violations and to try to better match consequences to offenses. They also are considering how to stop mixing different kinds of student offenders in the five alternative schools the system operates, Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for student services, reported.

The system has reduced its dropout tally from about 1,600 in the 2007-08 school year to under 1,403 in 2008-09, according to figures the committee got. It has been reducing short-term and long-term suspensions as well, the administrators said.

The professional learning teams aim at raising the graduation rate by working with students who have high absences, ones who are out on long-term suspensions for serious violations and ones at risk for dropping out.

Karen Hamilton, a senior director of counseling and student services, also told the board that an online teaching program called Second Chance Online Resource for Education had reached 328 suspended students during the 2009-10 year and that between half and three-quarters of the students were scoring "proficient" on state end of grade and end of course tests.

"It's just fine, fine instruction," Hamilton said of the online program in which teachers conduct online classes for students.

The system tries to enroll students as soon as they are recommended for suspensions, she said, because teachers have found that students do best when they are enrolled right away. Even ones who sign up late and miss a lot of instruction before the tests "have re-engaged with" learning, however, she said.

In other parts of the presentation, Eric Sparks, director of school counseling, said that counselors working with students in 51 elementary schools had been able to reduce excused absences from 1,182 in the 2007-08 year to 487 a year later.

The system uses an "early warning" system that looks at chronic attendance problems, discipline issues, test performance and whether students are over-age for their grade to help identify students who need help, the presenters said.

In another part of their talk, Sparks said that research data had shown that a dropout from a Wake County high school in the 2008-09 school year had a likely cost outside the system of:

  • $2.9 million for community college remediation if the student tried to make up education later
  • $7.1 million in extra crime-related costs for the community during the student's lifetime
  • $15 million more in lifetime health-care costs because dropping out correlates with not having health insurance and being ill more often
  • $370 million in lost lifetime earnings because of having less education

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  • freddie cadetti 72 Jun 9, 2010

    Both of my Children dropped out of a Wake County High School. Eleventh grade, two years apart. It was a GT Magnet school. Both said they were lost in the system...a system which placed all the attention on the high acheivers and the lowest scoring of the school. Ones in the middle were left out. So, they both dropped out, one went to Wake Tech & the other to Johnston Community College, where they both received their high school diplomas (earlier than if they had remained at Enloe and graduated), and both now have very successful careers even a college graduate would envy. So, public HS is not for everyone. My kids knew they wanted to complete HS...just not in a system that didn't care.

  • fatchanceimwrong Jun 9, 2010

    What is the school board's definition of "at-risk" students? On what basis do they classify them?

  • Tawny Jun 9, 2010

    The only positive thing that I can say about the current school board is that they have begun a discussion about establishing collaborative relationships with outside agencies that could be supportive in working with students and their families, particularly special programs or at-risk students. This would be a great step in helping to reengage those long term suspended students who are at risk of dropping out of school.

  • fatchanceimwrong Jun 9, 2010

    I'd be curious to see the makeup of dropouts and high absence students broken out by grade level, race, sex and whether or not they are on the free and reduced lunch program. If a large percentage of these students fall into the same catergories, then efforts can be better directed to where the problems lie.

  • miketroll3572 Jun 9, 2010

    Whatusay: I like that! This also sounds like a job for the PARENTS to me!

  • fatchanceimwrong Jun 9, 2010

    One fix for high suspension numbers is to change the "zero tolerance" policy. If a bully is picking on another student and starts a fight with him, both are automatically suspended. It's wrong to suspend someone for defending himself from an assault. The one who started it should be suspended, not the victim. This would lower the number of suspensions, and rightly so. The problem is that the school system doesn't want to take any responsibility in determining fault, and instead cites their "zero tolerance" policy and suspends both students. Their incompetence in this area results in the school system adding to their own problems, and punishes students who deserve no punishment.

  • InvolvedCitizen Jun 9, 2010

    I'd like to see some percentages along with those numbers to get a better picture. But it's encouraging news.
    "NC needs a new law: No high school diploma, no welfare." Interesting idea... If you refuse to take advantage of the education that the tax payers are willing to provide, then the taxpayers refuse to support you. Throw in online & vocational highschool options, and free daycare, and you might be onto something.

  • localyank Jun 9, 2010

    whatusay - I agree with you in principle. Perhaps some sort of a trade certificate instead of a HS diploma would also be sufficient. If you can't complete some type of training program, don't come back for support.

  • EZeegoing Jun 9, 2010

    "NC needs a new law: No high school diploma, no welfare."

    How true, statistics show high school drop outs are not as successful in the job market as HS grads. Same applies to college degrees over a HS diploma. Not having at least a high school diploma relegates a potential job applicant to remaining unemployed and dependant on welfare. Is this right ? I agree laws need to be changed on enhancing education and eliminating the freeloaders depending on a lifetime of welfare and medicade.

  • whatusay Jun 9, 2010

    NC needs a new law: No high school diploma, no welfare.