Getting dropouts back in school
If you work in a Baltimore high school with a high dropout rate, you and your colleagues are in for a busy few weeks. Dr. Alonso has ordered high schools to individually go after the 925 students who have dropped out since January. Every one of those students is to receive a phone call by Tuesday (since Wednesday is the first of two resource fairs for older dropouts) and a home visit by the end of the month (when school funding will be calculated based on enrollment). And the push won't end there: Monthly, schools will be expected to identify and track down their dropouts.
In my story today, Nancy Grasmick expresses concern about the additional workload on school staff, particularly given that the schools with the highest dropout rates are probably also the schools where a lot of seniors still need to pass the HSAs or complete a project. While North Avenue says it will provide schools with support, I can't envision Alonso (who, btw, was just named "Best New Public Servant" by City Paper) having much patience for anyone who complains about the extra workload. If there are no throwaway kids, he says, schools should not be sitting idly by and allowing students to leave. He has said repeatedly that he wants to be evaluated based on the city's graduation rate and, if he can't get it to improve, he should be fired.
Few would argue against the merits of reducing the number of dropouts. But there are also basic steps that we haven't been willing to take to improve. When legislation has been proposed in the General Assembly to raise Maryland's minimum dropout age from 16 to 18, it's never gone anywhere -- largely because of fears that schools wouldn't have the resources to serve all the extra students. So city kids know they can leave at 16, and until now, they could leave without a fight.
For the full text of the letter Alonso sent to principals yesterday, keep reading.
September 18, 2008
Since January 2008, 925 Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) students have dropped out of high school. We need to get them back — starting today. City Schools must be a system that is focused solely on what is best for kids. Responding to your call, we have almost doubled our alternative education slots. We have six new transformation schools and nine new transformation schools on the way for the 2009-2010 school year. We are working closely with community based groups to link our efforts so that disengaged young adults can obtain a high school diploma through different options such as GED programs. Every school — and especially high schools, which received over $11M more than the previous year — now benefits from greatly increased flexibility over more resources at the school level to respond to the needs of all of our kids. Lack of motivation should never be a reason a kid drops out. It is our job to make sure that the student finds a setting that motivates him or her. Dropping out of school should be the hardest choices students can make — not the easiest. It is too important for their futures and ours.
Our high school principals will find attached guidance regarding the processes and procedures for recapturing these students. I am charging you to start implementing this guidance today and commit to reach 100 percent of students. City Schools will host two resource fairs for students ages 19-21, where they can access various academic options for finishing their high school education, and supports and services that span employment assistance, counseling and substance abuse programs, Baltimore City Community College classes, childcare, transportation, immunization, etc. The fairs will be: Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008 at Dunbar Middle School, 500 N. Caroline St., 10 am–8 pm, and Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway, 10 am–8 pm.
There is no work more critical than reaching and supporting our kids. I know you will do everything you can to help bring these 925 kids back. Meantime, City Schools is working with other city and state agencies and appealing to other community groups and organizations, faith-based communities and all Baltimore citizens to also join the effort.
Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools