September 19, 2008

Too Many Classmates Left Behind

By Anonymous

At this time each year, all of Northwest Missouri and Northeast Kansas celebrates the accomplishments of our graduating high school seniors. We honor both their hard work and their success in clearing a major life hurdle.

And yet, our celebrations could be even louder and larger. Many of our new graduates know someone who dropped out of school.

An example is found in St. Joseph. In the four years from 2004 to 2007, nearly 3,400 students graduated from Central, Benton and Lafayette high schools. Regrettably, 431 of their classmates at the start of the ninth-grade year did not.

Those numbers equate to an average graduation rate of about 89 percent -- about 4 percentage points above the state average and 20 or more points above the national average. Still, we feel for those 431 local students.

"The Silent Epidemic," a 2006 study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recommends key steps to improve graduation rates: find new ways to engage uninterested students, including linking school success to real-world work; provide more individualized instruction and smaller classes; provide a safe, disciplined school environment; improve communication with parents; and ensure students have a strong relationship with at least one adult in the school.

That list pretty much covers what we are asking of our schools these days, and it includes many concepts that are part of local programs such as Missouri Option and Graduation Recovery.

These programs, available through the St. Joseph School District, provide a meaningful second chance for students who fall behind or drop out because of poor academic achievement; a teen pregnancy or other health issues; or simply failing to do the work required for graduation.

Studies have shown the larger, urban school districts to be struggling mightily to deliver a quality education. In 17 of the top 50 districts, graduation rates are reported to be less than 50 percent. In that light, St. Joseph's rate would look wonderful at this point. But our city and the surrounding region want more for our young people.

Truth be told, we would like to be known as a region and community where 100 percent of students pick up their diplomas on graduation day.

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