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January 30, 2012

City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan

Baltimore city is used to some radical ideas when it comes to keeping kids in school--a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso--but there is one that I wanted to put out there for debate's sake.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said that his administration would encourage states to raise the compulsory age of attendance to prevent kids from dropping out of school. Under the proposal, children would be require to attend school until the age of 18.

In Maryland, there's been a longstanding attempt to address truancy and dropout rates by raising the compulsory age of attendance, a measure that seems to have always failed due to its financial cost (because the human one is priceless, many would argue).

Still, the issue makes the city school system's legislative wish-list every year, and schools chief Alonso said Monday that he still maintains that, "it makes no sense to tell a kid they can't vote or drive a car but we let them drop out of school."

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to raise the state's compulsory age, a cause she plans to continue championing, said Monday she was "really pleased to see the President call on states to take care of our children. We ought to be doing everything we can to keep our students in school."

In 2008, Pugh's efforts spurred a yearlong study by a statewide task force of educators, community leaders and legislators which recommended that, among several other efforts, the state raise the compulsory age of attendance.

"Everything in that study, except raise to the age to 18, we've done," she said, citing examples like the numerous alternative schools and programs that have sprouted up across the state, and the move toward more in-school suspensions.

Pugh noted that Baltimore city has utilized several of the reports recommendations under Alonso, which she believes has contributed to the city's dropout rate being cut in half in the last four years. 

"There's nothing left for Maryland to do except push the dropout age to 18," she said. "It says to young people that the state has the responsibility to provide you an education, and we consider you a child until the age of 18, which we do."

The 2008 report also but found that it would cost the state $200 million a year and worsen the existing shortage of teachers, classroom space and other resources.  

Pugh said the state's current budget model for education is to "count children out, before we count them in," she said. “They estimate that a certain amount of students will drop out of school, and allocate that money somewhere else. It’s ridiculous.”

In speaking with some city educators in the last few days, there were some common concerns:

1.)Even with the current compulsory age of attendance at 16, hundreds of parents are hauled into court every year for their students' truancy, some of whom can't control what their kids do once they leave for the bus stop or are dropped off in front of the schoolhouse doors.

2.)What will become a school's climate if there are so many students there who don't want to be?

With that in mind, I am wondering what our education community thinks of this issue--now that it's on the White House's radar?

FYI: Our White House reporter covered another angle of Obama's education plan, regarding college tuition. It seems that the plan has raised hopes and concerns in the state.
Posted by Erica Green at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City


First, let's get it straight - the city pushed raising the mandatory age of attendance because in it funding scheme it means more money. Yes, the dropout rate was/is terrible and as the CEO was fond of saying there are no throw away kids. BUT in a system where 80% of the funding comes from the outside they had nothing to lose by pushing the notion that is was for the kids.
The better way to do it is to offer a better product that the students what and need and they will come. That is the "success" story behind the alternative schools not forcing them come as raising the mandatory age would do. Ms Pugh's statement - "the state has the responsibility to provide you an education" belies the notion that an education is like a free lunch, all you have to do is show up, it will be handed out and everyone should be happy. We have been there under guise of social promotion and that did not work out too well.
Obama needs to get his head out of Duncan's butt and stop pushing these pie in the sky solutions to real issues with education. One answer to lower dropout rates – strengthen vocational training, not everyone can or wants to go to college. Look to Baltimore County, not DC, as an example.

When I first heard Obama say this I said out loud "That's a TERRIBLE idea." Then I thought about why I had such a strong reaction initially. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that yes, it was in fact a terrible idea, especially for an urban district with high crime and a high drop out rate.

Making young adults be in school when they don't want to be has the potential to make our already unsafe schools even worse. Many students who are currently enrolled are already bringing their "extra-curricular activities" into school. So many schools can't even get the kids who arrive in the morning to attend class consistently. And these are the kids who want to be or are pressured to be in school.

Also troubling is the fact that we're moving towards evaluating teachers based on their ability to move students forward. If a high school teacher now has a group of students who don't want to be in school and are essentially are just waiting to drop out, how realistic is it to expect teachers to complete meaningful work with every student? These aren't little kids we're talking about here, these are teenagers, a lot of whom are savvy enough to know when they're being held accountable and when they're not. For heaven's sake, we're barely hanging on now with the kids that WANT to be in school. If North Avenue has already embraced this idea this shows how out of touch with the schools they really are.

And have taxpayers really stopped to consider how we're going to afford this? It seems like the most callous argument of all, but we're talking about significantly increasing the amount of students we teach. The City already has to fight every year in Annapolis just to keep its budget growing. Would the state increase the city's funding if attendance went up, or would we just have to make due with slightly more cash and a hell of a lot more students? (Does Thornton Law come in here?) If it's the latter, we're done for.

Yes, our country's drop out rate is a problem, and we need to make dropping out less attractive and make schools offer more to our young people. But the unintended consequences of mandating attendance until 18 far outweigh the benefits, and bring up serious questions about student safety and fairness to teachers.

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