Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Defining Dropout

The latest educational cause that has educators and community leaders and business people and politicians linking hands and singing together is reducing the number of high school dropouts. It is good that everyone wants to get behind this noble cause. However, in Indiana the definition of a high school dropout may actually be a barrier to reducing the number of dropouts. Consider the following scenarios:
  • A student earns his high school diploma but takes five or six years to do so.
  • A student leaves the public high school and earns his GED.
  • A student forgoes finishing high school because she has been accepted to a prestigious college where she begins working on her bachelor's degree. (Yes, this really happens.)
  • A student, because of disabilities, is unable to meet the requirements for a general diploma but completes four or more years of high school, earning what is called a certificate of attendance.
Each of these students is defined as a dropout by Indiana standards. Yet one has to recognize that each of these students is successful. The first student took a little longer to earn the diploma, but he did earn his diploma. It is not unusual for a college student to need an extra semester, an extra year, or an extra two years to earn a degree; why should Indiana schools be punished because a student needs more time. Differentiated instruction would suggest that some students need more time to learn, but the state punishes schools for following best practice.

In the second scenario the GED is good enough to allow a student to enter community college or other universities, but is considered a failure by Indiana legislative standards.

Considering the third scenario, it does not follow that a student who is accepted by a university should be considered a dropout.

In the last scenario, it could be argued that the students do not earn a diploma, but these students finish four or more years of high school. This cannot be called dropping out by any standard.

When one drops out, one does not continue working toward the goal. To dropout means to quit, to give up, to stop working toward the goal.
If the State of Indiana is serious about working to reduce the number of dropouts, the first step is to change the definition of dropout. I do not suggest this as an easy way to increase the number of students being successful, but as a means of providing options for students who need options. For one reason that students dropout is that they feel they have no other option. As we are for charter schools to provide people with choice, we should be for changing the definition of dropout, to provide choice and to support students in earning the high school diploma.

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