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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.