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

School administrators in Wake County are using a range of assessments, work by counselors and online education for suspended students to try to reduce the district's dropout rate.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — 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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