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SREB Report on High Schools That Work

Last year I spoke at the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta Georgia. They have just issued an analysis of that workshop.

Schools With Higher Graduation Rates Work Hard to Engage Students in Learning

Southern Regional Education Board, 592 10th St. N.W., Atlanta, GA 30318, (404) 875-9211, www.sreb.org APRIL 2009

Teachers Can Help Students Graduate:
Tips and Tools to Prevent Dropouts

Every school day, the equivalent of 171 busloads of children leaves school in the United States, never to return. That’s our daily dropout rate. Do you think we can afford that? I don’t.
— Franklin Schargel

Franklin Schargel, senior managing associate of the School Success Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has devoted his life to improving education. His career has included classroom teaching, school counseling and school supervision and administration. He is the author of books such as 152 Ways to Keep Students in School: Effective, Easy-to-Implement Tips for Teachers and Strategies to Help Solve Our School Dropout Problem. In the book, Helping Students Graduate: A Strategic Approach to Dropout Prevention, Schargel and co-author Jay Smink, executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, provide 15 strategies to address the dropout problem.

The strategies are designed to help teachers be proactive in helping at-risk students to graduate. They are research-based, data-driven and linked to each other, Schargel said. They have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the United States Education Goals Panel as “the most effective strategies to solve our school dropout problem.”

Dropout Prevention Strategies
The basic core strategies are mentoring and tutoring, service learning, alternative schooling and extended learning opportunities.
Mentoring is a caring, supportive relationship based on trust between a mentor and a mentee, while tutoring focuses on meeting students’ specific academic needs. Sometimes older students are asked to tutor younger students in reading, mathematics or science during a lunch period or a study hall. “Mentoring and tutoring might include pairing every senior with a freshman student to build ninth-graders’ academic skills,” Schargel said.

Service learning connects community service with academic learning. It promotes personal and social growth, career development and civic responsibility. “Service learning connects school to the workplace and gives students reasons to attend school and learn,” Schargel said.

Alternative schooling provides potential dropouts a variety of options that can lead to graduation. Many schools provide extended learning opportunities after school and in the summer to eliminate information loss and heighten students’ interest in learning. Teachers can build extended learning opportunities into the school day to engage students who use the Internet and watch movies and television.

In the group of dropout prevention strategies known as early intervention, educators should consider early childhood education, early literacy development and family engagement. “The most effective way to reduce the number of children who ultimately will drop out of school is to provide the best possible classroom instruction from the beginning of their school experience,” Schargel said. Early childhood education is important, he said, because the dropout process can begin in kindergarten.

Early literacy development, designed to help low-achieving students improve their reading and writing skills, can establish the foundation for effective learning in all subjects, Schargel said. Reading and writing to learn are vital skills in keeping students enrolled in school until graduation. “Assign books that students like to read,” Schargel said.

Research has shown that family engagement has a direct, positive effect on student achievement and is an accurate predictor of a student’s success in school, Schargel said. He suggests surveying families to determine the best time and place to hold meetings aimed at involving families in helping their children meet academic goals.

The next set of dropout prevention strategies contains ways to make the most of instruction, including professional development, active learning, educational technology and individualized instruction. “Effective professional development
programs are long-term and school-based,” Schargel said. “They include demonstration, practice and feedback; comprehensive staff involvement; and sufficient time and resources to deliver new instructional techniques.” Teachers who work with at-risk students need to feel that they are supported in developing instructional skills and techniques and learning innovative classroom strategies. Active learning includes methods of involving students in the interactive pursuit of learning. “When students are shown that there are different ways to learn, they find new and creative ways to solve problems, achieve success and become lifelong learners,” Schargel said.

Educational technology allows teachers to deliver instruction that engages students in authentic learning and addresses individual learning styles. Individualized instruction provides a customized learning program for each student and gives teachers flexibility in their instruction.
Dropout prevention strategies that make the most of the wider community include systemic renewal, school and community collaboration, career/technical education and safe schools.
Systemic renewal calls for an ongoing process for evaluating goals and objectives related to school policies, practices and organizational structures as they impact a diverse group of learners.
When groups support the school through school and community collaboration, the result is a caring environment where students can thrive and achieve. “Schools cannot do it alone,” Schargel said. “They must work with a number of groups to build an infrastructure of support.”
In recommending career/technical education as a dropout prevention strategy, Schargel credited it with being goal-oriented, creating awareness of possibilities, providing needed experiences, developing career skills and encouraging positive habits.
Safe schools are made possible by adopting clear discipline policies, offering anger management and conflict resolution sessions, and maintaining a caring and cooperative school culture that respects diversity.

“Increasing the graduation rate and reducing the dropout rate are great economic incentives for the community,” Schargel said. He explained that more than 80 percent of prisoners are dropouts and that the average cost per prisoner is $41,000 per year. “Ignorance is expensive,” he said.

Contact: Franklin Schargel ( franklin@schargel.com)

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