Dropout warning signs show up early

EducDropoutStudy101309Just 108 Colorado schools account for 70 percent of all dropouts in the state, according to a new report conducted for the Colorado Graduates Initiative by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The study, titled “Understanding the Dropout Problem and Mobilizing to Meet the Graduation Challenge,” focused on five Colorado school districts, Adams 12, Aurora, Denver, Jefferson County and Pueblo City.

The report found that behavioral factors such as absenteeism, failing grades and bad behavior are stronger indicators of the likelihood of dropping out than are traditional demographic factors such as ethnicity and family income. Johns Hopkins researchers have been in the forefront of work on behavioral factors and how they surface in middle school and at the beginning of high school.

The five districts were invited to participate because they’re among the largest in the state and have some of the highest numbers of dropouts. The study looked at 2006-07 dropouts.

Among the findings:

  • More than three of four dropouts had failed one or more semester classes in the 9th grade.
  • In four of the five districts, a large majority of dropouts had patterns of chronic absenteeism.
  • Nearly half of dropouts in four of five districts had been suspended at least once in the previous four years.

The study also examined students who were 9th graders in 2003-04 and so could have dropped out between 2003 and 2007. For those students, researchers found that the percentage of students who graduated on time declined noticeably with each semester class failure in 9th grade, and only 22 to 29 percent of students with one or more failures graduated on time.

“It’s a slippery slope. Even one semester course failure means a student is less likely to graduate on time from high school,” Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, in a statement. The Campaign and Colorado Youth for Change and the Partnership for Families and Children are partners in the Colorado Graduates Initiative. The study was paid for by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations.

Risk indicators also were found among middle school students in the five districts. “A third of 6th grade students are exhibiting at least one of the early warning indicators (poor attendance, behavior problems, course failure) in two of the districts, and as many as half appear to be at risk in another district,” according to the study’s executive summary.

The Initiative hopes that the report, by more closely identifying where the dropout problem is concentrated, will make it easier to identify and serve potential dropouts with successful interventions designed to reduce the number of failing students, decrease absenteeism and provide help to at-risk middle school students.

The report calls on districts to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of existing policies and interventions, build agreement among administrators and faculty on use of research-based practices to reduce the dropout rate and to create schoolwide programs and support structures to implement such practices.

Colorado Department of Education dropout statistics for the 2007-08 school year reported that 15,524 students dropped out in grades 7 through 12, 3.8 percent on a base of 411,439 students.

Eleven districts had more than 300 dropouts each that year, for a total of 9,674, or 62 percent of all dropouts. They were:

  • Adams 12 – 902, 4.6 percent
  • Aurora – 1,424, 8.2 percent
  • Cherry Creek – 749, 2.9 percent
  • Colorado Springs 11 – 657, 4 percent
  • Denver – 2,591, 7.4 percent
  • Greeley – 346, 3.9 percent
  • Jefferson County – 1,430, 3.2 percent
  • Mesa 51 – 474, 4.3 percent
  • Poudre – 347, 2.6 percent
  • Pueblo City – 435, 4.7 percent
  • St. Vrain – 319, 3.7 percent

(The tiny Vilas district in southeastern Colorado reported 1,802 dropouts, or 19.2 percent. That’s because Vilas runs an extensive online program used by many students who live elsewhere.)

The Initiative will release two related reports, on rural and on female dropouts, Friday at the Colorado Dropouts Summit for School District Leaders, co-hosted by Governor Bill Ritter, America’s Promise, State Farm and the Initiative. The event will be at Arvada High School.

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Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations are among the sponsors of Education News Colorado.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”