December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
28°F
test

‘Dropout factories’ flourish


Admiral King among schools cited for low grad rates

COLUMBUS — At 14 of the city’s 17 high schools, nearly 40 percent or more of the students who started as freshmen have disappeared before graduation day, a trend that’s affecting about 1 out of 10 public high schools statewide.

Just under 70 Ohio high schools have rates of retention that are so low that they could be nicknamed “dropout factories,” according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis of the education data for The Associated Press. That description fits more about 10 percent of all high schools in America.

The only one of those schools in Lorain County is Lorain Admiral King High School, whose inclusion on the list shocked new Lorain Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.

Admiral King, she said, is one of the schools that qualified for the federal Closing the Achievement Gap program, which funds programs that aid students who are at risk for dropping out.

Atkinson said she was not aware of the study and did not know whether the figures took in to account students who left to attend charter schools or because of open enrollment at other districts. The district estimates that it has lost hundreds of children over the past few years to both charter schools and open enrollment.

“Regardless of how it’s calculated, I’m concerned about it,” Atkinson said.

“One of the things we have to be very careful of is making sure we’re taking care of these kids as they go through, from ninth grade until graduation,” she said.

As Ohio high school seniors say they’ve spent the past four years watching their class sizes shrink, state school districts are scrambling to combat the dropout rates and help students graduate.

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in the state’s large cities, including 14 of 17 high schools in the Columbus district, seven of 17 in Cincinnati, seven of 16 in Cleveland and six of seven in Toledo. Many have high proportions of minority students and students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Students in these schools face extra challenges to remain in school and graduate.

“There’s too many kids leaving school,” said Julian Garcia, 18, a senior at Northland High School in Columbus. “More people are missing, you can tell people are dropping out.”

Many students leave school because their family needs them to find a job and earn money, or because they’re going to have a baby, said Jeff Morrer, 17, a Northland High School junior. Others are fed up with rules and homework.

“They get suspended and then just say ‘forget it’ and never come back,” said Jameela Ragland, 17, a Northland junior. “School’s just not for them, I guess.”

Unlike the Johns Hopkins analysis, Ohio uses a different method of tracking retention in public high schools, said Karla Carruthers, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. The data submitted to the state by individual school districts tracks kids through a “cohort” system which accounts for some mobility among students, such as students moving to another district or a nonpublic high school within the same district, she said.

To increase the accuracy of the data, Ohio is moving to a system that tracks individual students through an identification number, she said. The first figures from data recorded in this way will be available next year.

In some cases, extenuating circumstances make the dropout numbers appear slightly misleading. For example, Pickerington High School Central appears to have a low rate of student retention, but the new Pickerington High School North, opened in 2003, absorbed about half the 2006 class when they were sophomores.

Also, in the past five years, many school districts have experienced a decline in enrollment due to the opening of charter schools, said Carruthers. In Columbus alone, there were 770 students enrolled in charter schools in 2005. Last year, more than 8,500 students in the district attended the alternative schools.

Cincinnati is working to pinpoint the needs of students at risk of dropping out, said Janet Walsh, the director of public affairs for the district. By trying to address individual social and emotional factors for dropping out, public schools have significantly boosted graduation rates over the past several years, she said.

Some schools are offering after-school help or new instruction methods that focus on helping students catch up on credits if they’ve fallen behind.

“One drop out is one too many, that’s the way we look at it,” Walsh said.

Columbus public schools are also trying a number of approaches to boost the retention and graduation rates, said Jeff Warner, spokesman for the district. The city is growing its mentoring program for 8th and 9th graders, designed to help motivate new freshmen and inspire them to stay in school. Schools are also experimenting with alternate discipline systems to keep kids engaged in school when they are suspended so they do not simply drift away, he said.