Dropout Summit Produces a Plan

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More than 100 organizations representing foundations, government policymakers and education and community leaders endorsed a 10-point plan last month to reduce the number of high school dropouts.

The strategy would include implementing early warning systems to support struggling students, creating more alternative paths to graduation and establishing more college and work prep courses.

Time will tell whether the event, kicked off by first lady Laura Bush, proves to be anything more than another expensive Washington photo op. Even if it doesn’t, it at least raised the profile of the dropout issue, as the first lady called for increasing graduation rates to be a top policy priority.

While the summit was a high-end political affair that focused on schools, participants included representatives from Teach for America, the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and the YouthBuild Alternative School in Cambridge, Mass.

The dropout problem has been slowly gaining attention. In 2005, the governors of every state signed the Graduation Counts Compact, agreeing that there should be a common formula for calculating state graduation rates and that improvements are needed in the collection, reporting and analysis of graduation and dropout data. By 2010, thirty-nine states plan to report the results of a five-year longitudinal study that is tracking student progress from entry into ninth grade through exit from high school.

Summit panelist Reginald Beaty, executive vice president of Communities in Schools of Georgia, praised the “holistic approach” of the gathering, and appreciated its receptivity to looking at “non-academic barriers” that make dropping out “a process, not an event.” He said community based support services for youth are essential for the effort to succeed.

Not in attendance was Jack Wuest, the feisty veteran innovator in working with dropouts in Chicago. “While these are all nice efforts in the area of prevention, they don’t offer a lick or a promise for the millions of dropouts left behind on the streets without education or employment opportunities,” said Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network. “It’s a huge oversight.”

Preventing fires is good, he said, but the nation’s current dropouts represent a “fire now raging” that needs attention.

The summit was sponsored by the National Governors Association, Civic Enterprises, Time magazine, MTV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Contact: (202) 624-5300, http://www.nga.org.