Teen Dropout

Document Sample
Teen Dropout Powered By Docstoc
					   High School

         High School
Dropout and Attrition
   EpistEmE march 2009
    The Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa brings research to practice through
data mining, analysis, planning, facilitation, program development and program evaluation.

     A series of monographs have been developed for the purpose of examining issues
            along the life continuum from conception through the young adult.

               This series is called Episteme, the Greek word for knowledge.

                                                                         Service Council
                                                                         of Greater Tulsa    2
                               High School Dropout and Attrition

                                                                                                          Prepared by
                                                                        The Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa
                                                                                                          March 2009


This report was authored by Sarah M. Martin, PharmD, Jan Figart, MS, RN, Carol A. Kuplicki, MPH, anad Michael

Focus groups were conducted by Talia Shaull, MS, Russell Burkart, BA, and Michael Easterling.

The narrative was edited and analyzed by members of the Data Indicator Committee of the Community Service Council
of Greater Tulsa, Inc.

Phil Dessauer, MA
Executive Director

Jan Figart, MS, RN
Senior Planner, Maternal and Child Health

Dan Arthrell, MA
Director of Public Policy

Melanie Poulter, MA

Pat Kroblin

For More Information us online to download this report.

For additional information, or arrangements for a special presentation to your group, please contact:
    Jan Figart, MS, RN
    Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa
    16 East 16th St., Ste 100
    Tulsa, Oklahoma 74119

Funding for this project was made possible through:
Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness through the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa, Inc.,
JumpStart Tulsa.

Average Daily Membership (ADM) -Average number of students enrolled on any given day during the
school year.

October 1st Enrollment – The number of students enrolled as of October 1st each year.

Attrition - The decrease in the number of students over time. The number of students usually declines
from the 9th to 12 grade however in growing school districts the “attrition” could be an increase.
Unless otherwise noted, attrition is considered to be a loss.

Dropout Rate - The number of students listed as dropping out divided by either the ADM or the Oct.
1st enrollment in the 9th grade four years earlier times 100. ADM is not available by race therefore, if
dropouts are calculated by race then the Oct. 1st enrollment us used. If the dropout rate is calculated
for all races then the ADM is used.

Graduation Rate - The number of students graduated divided by the number enrolled in 9th grade four
years earlier times 100. Also, described as the Completion Rate.

Why should anyone worry about the 1.2 million1 teenagers
that dropout of school annually?

Young people who do not complete their high school educations enter their adult lives without the
minimum skills and credentials required to function in today’s society and an increasingly technological
workplace2. Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, receive government assis-
tance for housing or health care, remain on public assistance longer and become involved in criminal
activities then their counterparts with a high school diploma2-13. High school graduates have been
shown to live longer, are less likely to be teen parents, are more likely to themselves raise high school
graduates, are move likely to engage in civic duties and volunteer in their communities10-15. High
school dropouts on average earn $9,634 annually less then those who have earned a diploma1. This
leads to decreased taxable income potential at the local, state and national levels. All of this in combi-
nation is ample reason to focus on ways to decrease the current dropout rate.

There are many methods used to estimate the high school completion rates. There is no national stan-
dard. Most states use the difference between the number of students who graduate high school com-
pared to the number of students enrolled in 9th grade four years earlier. Other methods take into ac-
count the “9th grade bulge” which occurs because 9th grade is the most frequent grade repeated (this
could allow a student to be counted in two or more subsequent years)16. Some measurements also
include those who earn a general education diploma (GED) rather then a high school diploma. A grow-
ing body of literature indicates that the GED program is far from equal to a high school diploma and
that GED recipients perform at the same level as high school dropouts in the US labor market17. Re-
gardless of the methods used to obtain an estimate of the dropout rate, the numbers are staggering.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1.2 million (7%) teens aged 16-19 are not enrolled in
school annually and therefore dropouts. This number is down from 1.6 million (11%) estimated in
2000. Oklahoma faired close to the national average with 16,000 (8%) in 2006 a rank of 36th in the na-
tion. North Dakota ranked first with only a 3% dropout rate while Louisiana ranked highest with an
11% dropout rate18. This method provides for the lowest rates estimated.

Figure 1. Teens Who Are High School Dropouts, 2000-2006

     Source: KIDS COUNT Data Center,

 Figure 2. Teens Who Are High School Dropouts, 2000

   Source: KIDS COUNT Data Center,

   Figure 3. Teens Who Are High School Dropouts, 2006

    Source: KIDS COUNT Data Center,

Using the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) method of calculating
(Graduates / [Graduates + (Dropouts 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grades)], rates are considerably higher. Accord-
ing to the NCES16, in 2001 the dropout rate in the US was 20%, 21% in Oklahoma and there is a general
downward trend on the number of US high school graduates over the previous two decades16.

  Figure 4. High School Graduation Rate Trend in the United States, 1982-2002

   Source: Postsecondary Opportunity, from National Center for Education Statistics.

Regardless of how the overall number of dropouts is calculated, the make-up of these young people
overall remains the same. Minority race and ethnic groups make up the majority of dropouts. In the US,
22-25% of whites dropped out of school, while 45-50% of blacks and 42-47% of Hispanic youth dropped
out. Asian youths have the lowest dropout rate of all race/ethnicities at around 19%2. Gender also is a
predictor as 32-36% of dropouts were male and 25-28% were female2,16.

Immigration status must also be taken into account. Foreign-born students had a drop out rate of 24%
compared to 16% of children born in the US to foreign-born parents in 2005. It is estimated that foreign-
born students only make up about 11% of the total student population2. Other factors include income,
grades and geographic location. Students living in low income families are six times more likely to drop-
out then those living in high-income families. Students in the bottom 25% of their class are twenty times
more likely to dropout then those in the top 25%. Students in suburban and rural public high schools are
more likely to earn a diploma then those in urban public schools1,19.

   Figure 4. United States and SREB Graduation Rates by Race/Ethnicity and Gender, 2001

       Source: Urban Institute, from National Center for Education Statistics data.
       Note: The Southern Region Education Board (SREB) is a study group of students.

        Figure 5. United States and SREB Graduation Rates by Race/Ethnicity and Gender, 2001

            Source: Urban Institute, from National Center for Education Statistics data.
            Note: The Southern Region Education Board (SREB) is a study group of students.

Figure 6. National High School Graduation Rates, 2003-2004

     Source: EPE Research Center, 2008

Figure 8. Metropolitan Area Graduation Gaps, 2003-2004

    Source: EPE Research Center, 2008
The school a student attends is also a factor in the dropout rate. Schools with the highest number of stu-
dents eligible for free or reduced lunches show a higher number of dropouts1. Recently research from
John Hopkins University cited that high schools with enrollments of 300 or more students produce the
highest drop out rates. Most of these schools are located in large cities16. Both Tulsa and Oklahoma City
are included in this information and ranked 32nd and 36th respectively (out of 50) for the percentage of
students to graduate.

Table 2. Graduation Rates in the Metropolitan Areas of the Nation’s 50 Largest Cities

Source: EPE Research Center, 2008

Figure 8. Percent of High Schools (with 300 Students or more) in Which Less Than Half of Students
          Reached the Senior Year, 2002

Source: Johns Hopkins University
Note: The Southern Region Education Board (SREB) is a study group of students.

Table 3. The 50 Largest Cities in the United States and Their Principal School Districts

Source: EPE Research Center, 2008

Table 2. Graduation Rates for the Principal School Districts Serving the Nation’s 50 Largest Cities

Source: EPE Research Center, 2008

Why do students dropout?

A study conducted by Bridgeland and colleagues sought to answer this question. Included in the face-
to-face interviews and focus sessions were 467 ethnically and racially diverse students aged 16 to 25
who had dropped out of public high schools in large cities, suburbs and small towns with high dropout
rates20. Some key points from this study include:

62% were earning “C’s and above” at the time they dropped out
58% dropped out with less then 2 years to complete high school
66% stated they would have worked harder if expectations were higher
70% were confident that they could have graduated from high school
81% recognized that graduating form high school was vital to their success
74% would have stayed in school if they had to do it over again
51% accepted personal responsibility for dropping out and an additional 26% shared the responsibility
between themselves and their schools

There is no single reason why students dropout, nor is it generally an impulse decision. Many students
stated that they had been considering dropping out for some time prior to actually doing it. The most
common reason for students to leave school was “school is boring.” 47% of students stated that
classes were not interesting to them, and 69% stated that the school or the teachers did not do enough
to make them work hard, that they went to school because they had to, not because they learned any-

Figure 7. Top Five Reasons Dropouts Identify as Major Factors for Leaving School

     Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
             school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
             Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

Life seemed to get in the way of some students march to a diploma. 32% of those surveyed left to get
a job, 26% became parents and 22% were required to take care of siblings or other tasks at home
while the parents were out working or otherwise unavailable.

35% said the reason they dropped out was because they were failing in school. 30% said they just
could not keep up with school work, 43% stated they had missed too many days to keep up and as
50% reported, previous schooling had not prepared them for high school.

Figure 8. Dropouts Did Not Feel Motivated or Inspired to Work Hard

      Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
              school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
              Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

  Figure 9. Teachers Are Doing Well, But Could Be Doing More

       Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
               school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
               Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

  Figure 10. Majority Are Confident That They Could Have Graduated

      Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
              school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
              Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

A lack of parental awareness/involvement, too much freedom/not enough rules and people missing
the warning signs were also listed by the students. Students described habits and patterns that they
say should have made teachers and parents aware of their impending decision to drop out of school.
Some of these include “refusing to wake up, missing school, skipping class and taking three hour
lunches.” Other warning signs according to the authors include: low grades, discipline and behavior
problems, lack of involvement in class and in school activities, pregnancy, being held back a grade or
more, students who transfer from another school and those who experience difficulty with the transi-
tion to 9th grade20 (Figures 8,9,10,11,12 and 13).

Figure 11. Attendance Is Strong Predictor of Dropping Out

     Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
             school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
             Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

Figure 12. Parental Awareness

     Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high
             school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart
             Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

Figure 13. Young People Accept Responsibility for Not Graduating

    Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high school
            dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for
            the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

How do we keep students in school?

Studies indicate a number of strategies hold promise. The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)
recommends 1) to set ambitious high school graduation targets for all groups of students and make
them a part of the accountability systems, 2) focus attentions on 9th graders, 3) reform high schools with
low performance ratings to make them more relevant and effective for students, and 4) communicate
key stay-in-school messages to students in danger for dropping out and to their families. They recom-
mend meeting these recommendations by implementing middle-graders-to-high-school transition pro-
grams, developing opportunities for student who are behind their peer group, providing flexibility for
student who struggle to remain in high school, providing outside help for chronically low-performing
high schools and restructuring schools that do not improve and launch media campaigns to promote
high school graduation and college attendance.16
The Gates Foundation suggests the following state action to improve high schools:

 Standards and Assessments: make sure that they are rigorous, reasonable, performance-based and
   aligned. Emphasize knowledge and skills necessary for college and careers, using various types of
   assessments that allow students to make progress and graduate by demonstrating important skills.
 Accountability: Focus on academic achievement gaps among groups of students and on gaps in
   graduation rates among these groups. Provide aid and intervention for school improvement , not
   just punishments to low-performing schools.
 Need-Based Funding: Focus on funding for students with the most need, rather than on the eco-
   nomics of local communities. Use flexibility in how funds can be used.
 Public School Choice: Emphasize diverse, small, focused high schools. Make transportation avail-
 College Access: Create college awareness programs targeting middle grades and high school stu-
   dents, with funding for need-based financial aid.

Bridgeland and colleagues recommend different schools for different students, parental engagement
strategies and individualized graduation plans, additional support services and adult advocates, in-
creasing the compulsory school age requirements to 18 under state law, better federal incentives for
districts that perform well, and focusing on the research available (of the dropout prevention programs
studied, most programs did not reduce the dropout rates by statistically significant amounts).20

When the students who had dropped out were asked what would improve students’ chances of staying
in school, tied responses at 81% identified opportunities for real world learning (internships, service
learning, etc.) to make classrooms more relevant and better teachers who keep classes interesting.
Small classes with more individual instruction (75%), better communication between parents and
school (71%), parents make sure their kids go to school every day (71%), and increase supervision at
school, ensure students attend classes (70%) round out the top choices20 (Figure 14).

Figure 14. What Dropouts Believe Would Improve Students’ Chances

        Source: Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high school
                dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for
                the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.

What are the numbers in Oklahoma?

The State of Oklahoma maintains information through the Office of Accountability on the number of
students enrolled (Average Daily Membership (ADM) and October 1st enrollment), the number of stu-
dents who dropout, and the number of students who graduate. A comprehensive analysis of Okla-
homa school dropout trends has not been produced by any agency. The Community Service Council of
Greater Tulsa (CSC) has monitored the dropout and attrition trends of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties as
well as the state since 2000. Using the graduating class of 2004 as the index year and examining attri-
tion from schools as the ADM change incrementally each year a total loss is sustained in Oklahoma
County of 29.5%, Tulsa County of 24.5% and for the state of Oklahoma 21.9% (Figure 15).

Figure 15. Average Daily Membership Percent Loss from 9th Grade Graduation Class 2004
                                                 Graduation Class 2004


      ADM Percent Loss






                                     OK County        Tulsa County       Oklahoma

                         9th-12th     29.5%              24.5%            21.9%
                         9th-10th     15.7%              10.0%            8.3%
                         10th-11th     9.5%              9.2%             8.6%
                         11th-12th     4.4%              5.3%             5.0%

Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have a significantly larger dropout rate overall (29.5% and 24.5% respec-
tively) compared to the state overall at 21.9%. Even with a decreased number of drop-outs in more
rural areas, 1 in 5 students that entered the 9th grade in 2000 did not graduate.

Dropout rates calculated as the actual number of students who dropout of school in grades 9th through
12th each year is the method used by the Oklahoma State Department of Education in accordance with
federal and state laws. Calculating the dropout rate each year as an average of each year incremen-
tally gives a less onerous picture of 3.5% in 2003-2004, and 3.2% in 2004-2005.21 In comparing the cu-
mulative dropout rate for grades 9th through 12th using the number of reported drops in the 9th
through 12th grade for the graduating class of 2004 and dividing by the ADM average of the four years
(adopted by the Graduation Counts Compact). The number would be reflected as 23.7% for Oklahoma
County, 17.4% of Tulsa County, and 16.6% of the state of Oklahoma. Nationally for school year 2004-
2005, the National Center for Education Statistics ranked Oklahoma 26th with a graduation rate of
76.9% (dropout rate of 23.1%) using the formula of averaged freshmen graduation rate based on the
percentages of student who received a regular diploma within 4 years of entering 9th grade.22

Figure 16. Attrition, Dropout and Graduation Percent for Graduating Class of 204 Oklahoma and
Tulsa Counties and Oklahoma
                      2004 Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties and Oklahoma
                                           Percent Graduated        Percent Attrition     Percent Dropout
 Attrition percent = 9th grade
 ADM four years earlier            80.0%
 minus12th grade ADM for the
 graduation class of 2004,         70.0%
 divided by the 9th grade ADM
 four years earlier, times 100.    60.0%

 Dropout percent is calculated
 by dividing the number of
 dropouts in the 9th through the
 12th grade for the graduation     40.0%
 class of 2004 by the ADM for
 the 9th grade four years          30.0%
 earlier, times 100.
 Graduated p ercent is the
 number graduated divided by
 the 9th grade ADM four years
 earlier, times 100.
                                                   OK County                            Tulsa County                           Oklahoma

                      Percent Graduated               69.1%                                71.2%                                   76.3%
                      Percent Attrition               29.2%                                26.0%                                   21.9%
                      Percent Dropout                 23.7%                                17.4%                                   16.6%

Oklahoma and Tulsa counties have a significantly lower graduation rate overall (69.1% and 71.2% re-
spectively) compared to the state overall at 76.3%. The average Oklahoma graduation rate overall is
only 76.3% or one out of every four students that begins 9th grade, will not graduate. (Figure 16)

Of the students enrolled in the 9th grade (8,396) in Tulsa County Schools, only 6,210 enrolled in the
12th grade 4 years later. There were 2,186 students lost from 9th to 12th grade. This loss could have
taken place anytime during the 4 years (Figure 17). By race for Tulsa County Schools, attrition was
13.9% white, 7.8% black, 2.17% Native American and 2% Hispanic youth

Figure 17. Graduation Class 2004 Tulsa County Public Schools, Attrition by Race
from 9th to 12th Grade Oct 1st Enrollment

                                                 N=8,396 (9th grade October 1st enrollment)

                                                                                                                White 1,169 (13.9%)

                                              6,210 (74.0%)
                                              Oct 1st enrollment                                                  Black 656 (7.8%)
                                                 12th grade
                                           (students remaining in

                                                                                                                   Native American 177

                                                                                                                  Hispanic 167 (2.0%)

                                                                                                            Other race 17 (0.2%)


Of the students enrolled in the 9th grade (9,101) in Oklahoma County Schools, only 6,184 enrolled in
the 12th grade. There were 2,917 students lost from 9th to 12th grade. This loss could have taken
place anytime during the 4 years (Figure 18). By race, the students were 15% white, 9.6% black, 2.2%
Native American and 4.5% Hispanic youth.

Figure 18. Graduation Class 2004 Oklahoma County Public Schools, Attrition by Race from 9th to 12th Grade Oct 1st
                                     N=9,101 (9th grade October 1st enrollment)

                                                                                  Darker shaded slices show loss from
                                                                                  9th to 12th grade Oct. 1st enrollment
                                                                                  by race.

                                      6,184 (68%)                                              1,397 (15%)
                                   Oct 1st enrollment
                                       12th grade
                                       (students                                               Black
                                     remaining in                                            871 (9.6%)
                                                                                           Native American
                                                                                             200 (2.2%)

                                                                                  413 (4.5%)
                                                                            Other race
                                                                             36 (0.4%)

Figure 19. Graduation Class 2004 Oklahoma Public Schools, Attrition by Race
           from 9th to 12th Grade Oct 1st Enrollment

                                           N=49,667 (9th grade Oct 1st enrollment)

                                                                              6,765 (13.6%)

                                 38,566 (77.6%)
                                Oct 1st enrollment
                                                                                     2,012 (4.1%)
                              12th grade (students
                               remaining in school)                                  Native American
                                                                                      1,466 (3.0%)
                                                                                      860 (1.7%)
                                                                              8 (0.0%)

In all of Oklahoma Public Schools, 49.66% were enrolled on October 1 in 9th grade, with (38, 566)
77.6% remaining in schools. By race, attrition was 13.6% white, 4.17% black, 3% Native American and
1.77% Hispanic Youth.

Figure 20. Graduation Class 2004 Oklahoma County, Tulsa County and Oklahoma Public Schools, Attrition by Gen-
der from 9th to 12th Grade
                                                                                                      Oct 1st
                   18.0%   17.0%
                                                                                                        Male     Female
                   16.0%            15.0%                   14.4%
    Percent Loss






                           Oklahoma Co                         Tulsa Co                                Oklahoma

Overall, males are much more likely to drop-out then their female counterparts. This seems to hold true
for both urban and rural districts (Figure 20).

What are the implications?


1. An Issue Brief from Alliance for Excellent Education. The high cost of high school dropouts: what the
    nation pays for inadequate high schools. June 2008.
2. Child Trends DataBank. Dropout Rates.
3. Laird L, Lew S, Debell M, et al. Dropout Rates in the United States: 2002, 2003. NCES 206-062. US
    Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
4. Goldschmidt P, Wang J. When can schools affect dropout behavior? A longitudinal multilevel analy-
    sis. American Education Research Journal 36(4):715-738.
5. Caspi A, Wright, BE, Moffit TE, et al. Childhood predictors of unemployment in early adulthood.
    American Sociologic Review 63(3):424-451.
6. Boisjoly J, Harris K, Duncan G. Initial welfare spells: trends events, and duration. Social Services Re-
    view 72(4): 466-492.
7. Moore K, Glei D, Driscoll A, et al. Poverty and welfare patterns: implications for children. Journal of
    Social Policy
8. Lochner L, Moretti E. The effect of education on crime: evidence from prison inmates, arrests and
    self reports. The American Economic Review 94(1): 155-189.
9. Freeman R. Why do so many young American men commit crimes and what might we do about it?
    Journal of Economic Perspectives 10(1): 25-42.
10. Muennig P. Health returns to education interventions. Paper prepared from the symposium on the
    social costs of inadequate education. Teachers College Columbia University, October 2005
11. Raphael S. The socioeconomic status of black males: the increasing importance of incarceration.
    Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley.
12. Haveman R, Wolfe B, Wilson K. Childhood events and circumstances influencing high shool comple-
    tion. Demography 28(1)
13. Wolfe BL, Havemen RH. Social and non-market benefits from education in an advanced economy.
    Paper prepared for Conference Series 47, Education in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of a
    Changing World, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, June 2002.
14. Garfinkel I, Kelly B, Waldfogel J. Public assistance programs: How much could be saved with im-
    proved education? . Paper prepared from the symposium on the social costs of inadequate educa-
    tion. Teachers College Columbia University, October 2005.
15. Junn J. The political costs of unequal education. Paper prepared from the symposium on the social
    costs of inadequate education. Teachers College Columbia University, October 2005.
16. Daugherty R. SREB: Getting serious about high school graduation. 2005.
17. Heckman JJ, LaFontaine PA. The declining American high school graduation rate: evidence, sources
    and consequences. NBER Reporter: Research Summary 2008 No. 1.
18. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. KIDS COUNT data center. Teens who are high school dropouts 2000
    and 2006.
19. Swanson CB. Cities in crisis: a special analytical report on high school graduation. Prepared with
    support from America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. April 1, 2008
20. Bridgeland JM, Dilulio, JJ, Morison KB. The silent epidemic: perspectives of high school dropouts. A
    report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill &
    Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2006.
21. Annual Report from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Investing in Oklahoma 2008, The
    progress of education reform, volume eleven, revised May 2008.
22. US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

                         Issues Affecting Our Youth
                     Summary of Young Adult Focus Groups

As part of its effort to determine what compels Tulsa-area high school students to leave school before
graduation, and how that decision has impacted their lives, the Community Service Council of Greater
Tulsa convened a series of seven focus groups from mid-November 2008 to mid-February 2009 to ex-
plore that subject in greater depth. Members of the groups, which ranged in size from three to nine, rep-
resented a mix of ethnic groups, including Hispanic, African-American, American Indian and Anglo. All
participants were between the ages of 18 and 24, and all of them came from what commonly would be
considered less-advantageous personal circumstances. Some of the participants were still in high school,
some in vocational-technical training and others in college, while still others had left their education be-
hind and joined the work force.

Mediators of these focus groups worked from a list of roughly a dozen questions dealing with the partici-
pants’ education experiences, family and personal life, and employment history. They were also asked
about their aspirations for the future and their perspectives on how to make the educational experience
more effective for more students. Mediators attempted to lead the discussion as little as possible, in-
stead encouraging the participants to express their views freely and frankly, so long as their responses
remained within the confines of the subject matter.

The focus groups consisted of two groups – one male, one female – from Will Rogers High School, the
only Tulsa Public Schools high school at which the largest ethnic group is Hispanic; another largely His-
panic group of various ages, male and female, from across the metro area that met at Martin Regional
Library in east Tulsa; a group of young Hispanic adults from St. Thomas More Catholic Church in east
Tulsa who were mostly first-generation immigrants; a group of male students – mostly Anglo and African-
American – who had dropped out of school and were participating in a Workforce Tulsa GED and carpen-
try skills program at Tulsa Technology Center for those 18 and older; a group of largely American Indian
women, many with children but some of whom were pursuing a college education, who met at the In-
dian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa; a group of Street School students; and an Associated Centers
for Therapy (ACT) group, many of whom had been in foster care, that met at ACT headquarters in south

Additional material for this summary was taken from a series of interviews with Tulsa-area school admin-
istrators, a vo-tech instructor and a national leader in the national community schools movement. In
many instances, the factors contributing to the high dropout rate identified by members of that group
showed remarkable similarity to the factors cited by the focus group participants, though they came
from different perspectives. Much of the material in this summary reflects what others already have dis-
covered or postulated, namely the findings featured in an oft-cited study on dropouts conducted by the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But other material seems to indicate that some problems or circum-
stances are somewhat unique to the Tulsa area or at least not widely repeated across the country.

Among the themes that were voiced by participants in the focus groups, there were three that appeared
with the most regularity. Those were the feeling that the things they learned in school were largely ir-
relevant to what was happening in their lives, the perception that too many teachers were not commit-
ted to maximizing their education experience, and that having a mentor or someone to provide leader-
ship or encouragement for them was an important factor in their ability to succeed.

Relevance to Their Lives
In terms of relevancy, a great many of those who took part in the focus groups believed that nothing
they were learning in school was going to contribute to their ability to find a good job upon graduation,
thus leading to their decision to leave school or largely disengage from it. Very few voiced any enthusi-
asm for the traditional core subjects – English, mathematics, science, history – and they were particularly
disillusioned with the way the material was presented. The word “boring” seemed to come up most of-
ten, with many students feeling overwhelmed by the rate at which they were expected to absorb and
master the material before the class moved on to something else, leading to a feeling of helplessness on
their part.

Classroom situations that were more interactive seemed to be better received by the students, particu-
larly vocational-technical (votech) instruction. In fact, a great many students who had chosen to remain
in school said that the chance to attend vo-tech was their primary motivation for doing so. Generally,
they found the vo-tech model, with its hands-on means of learning a trade such as auto mechanics, elec-
trical work, HVAC maintenance or the culinary arts, was much more relevant to helping them meet their
goals and the material was far more interesting. Many seemed disappointed that they could only attend
vo-tech training for a few hours a day and believed they would be more inclined to remain in school if
more of their instructional day consisted of that kind of curriculum.

Perception of Teachers

Few students indicated that their teachers were interested in helping them overcome the hurdles they
faced in trying to complete their high school education. A commonly voiced refrain was that class sizes
were too large, and particularly among those for whom English was a second language, there was a per-
ception that teachers were unwilling to slow down their pace of instruction to answer questions or re-
peat hard-to-understand material. A handful of Hispanic students even voiced the feeling that their
teachers treated them different from Anglo students, with one woman saying she had been forbidden to
speak Spanish in class by a teacher. But a large majority of students across ethnic lines believed too many
of their teachers simply weren’t invested in helping them learn, that they were simply going through the
motions and weren’t willing to provide more help to those who needed it most. One member of the
group that met at Martin Regional Library, a Hispanic male, said he had a teacher in a computer class
who didn’t speak to him once the entire year. Eventually, he said, that lack of attention led to his deci-
sion to quit going to the class.

There were several exceptions to this, and among a handful of students, a caring and committed teacher
had made a significant difference. The CareerTech students at Tulsa Technology Center (TTC) – many of
whom had emerged from dysfunctional, abusive childhoods – acknowledged how the different yet struc-
tured atmosphere of that program had changed their lives for the better and given them a chance at
turning things around. They were fed a hot meal each day, gained an understanding of basic carpentry

techniques through hands-on instruction and were sent out to job sites to work, all while simultaneously
pursuing their GED and being paid for their time by Workforce Tulsa. Caring, compassionate instructors
who understood the challenges these students faced in their daily lives in many cases created a bond of
trust that seemed to be lacking from their previous relationships. But these cases seemed to be very
much the exception, rather than the rule. Too many public schools students simply felt ignored.

Discussion of this topic often segued into the area of mentors and how many of the focus group partici-
pants had someone in their lives they could rely on for support, advice and encouragement. Many of
them did, but the vast majority of mentors were family members, with very few students indicating that
someone from outside the family – a coach or teacher, a member of the clergy, a family friend, a boss or
a community group leader – had taken on that role in their life. Among members of the Hispanic groups,
in particular, the family bond was particularly important. Many Hispanic young people indicated their
parents were supportive and encouraging, and many of those students thus felt obligated to remain in
school to justify their parents’ faith in them and the sacrifices they had made on their behalf. They also
wanted to serve as an example for their younger siblings, as well, both in terms of staying in school and
avoiding trouble with drugs, alcohol, gangs or pregnancy. Participation in gang activity was a relatively
small issue, with most participants expressing the view that it was not something they had ever felt pres-
sured or compelled to do. Many, in fact, seemed to regard gang membership as a joke and viewed it with

Those family-mentorship bonds extended to other ethnic groups, as well. One group of three Choctaw
sisters that was part of the focus group at the Indian Health Care Resource Center of Tulsa shared a re-
markable story of how their family’s close-knit nature had allowed them to overcome various hurdles
after moving to Oklahoma from Arizona in high school. One sister had resisted the urge to dropout,
graduating from Thomas Edison High School, then completing two semesters at TTC. She then trans-
ferred to Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, and is now two semesters shy of earning
her degree in Native American studies. After graduation, she hopes to complete an internship with the
Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., then return to Oklahoma and work for the Choctaw Nation.
An older sister who had graduated from the University of Tulsa and New York University before going on
to work for the National Institutes of Health was her inspiration for this success, she said, explaining that
her sister offered to pay her tuition, which her parents could not afford to do. Two younger sisters have
dropped out and had children, but one of them obtained her GED and the other is in the process of doing
so. Without the example set by an older sibling, each said they would not have been able to muster the
wherewithal to continue their education.

Another young woman from the same group had a different tale, providing one of the few examples of
how an employer had positively impacted her life. An African-American, she was bright and had done
well in school, participating in cheerleading and various leadership positions until her sophomore year at
Broken Arrow High School, where a poor choice of friends and the feeling that she wasn’t getting enough
attention at home after her mother married an alcoholic led her to get involved in a physical relationship
with an American Indian/Hispanic young man. She became pregnant and soon felt out of place at Broken
Arrow High School, so she transferred to Nathan Hale High School, which she found unchallenging and
unstimulating. She tried alternative school through the Margaret Hudson Program as a junior, and found
that experience much more satisfactory, but returned to Hale for her senior year, graduating and enroll-
ing at TTC. She also managed to find employment with a local design firm that hired her as a bookkeeper,
where she learned on the job, even as she raised her son. She has been employed at the firm for three
years and oversees all aspects of the firm’s financials – payroll, bills, tax returns, etc. While she hopes to

move on to a career in marketing, the woman recognizes that the faith her employers showed in her –
and their willingness to work with her as she juggles the demands of being a single mother – have placed
her in a situation where she can still achieve her goals in life.

The members of the young adults group at St. Thomas More all Catholic Church seemed positively im-
pacted by their association with the church. Though most of them were undocumented and were English
language learners, they seemed happier, more motivated and more integrated in their community than
many of the other Hispanics who took part in the focus groups. Part of that may have been that they
were older than the high school students, but they all seemed to benefit from their membership in the
group, avoiding the feelings of social isolation that so many of the others expressed. One member of the
group counted
her boss as a mentor, while another said having a priest or church friend to confide in allowed her to ex-
press thoughts she couldn’t convey to her parents.

In any event, it was clear that the students who were being mentored or encouraged by someone were
better off than those who weren’t. A number of those who were not part of a relationship of that nature
still recognized the benefits of it and expressed a desire to find someone they could trust and rely on.
Too many of the students had no one outside their immediate circle of friends or family with whom to
interact, limiting their opportunities for expanding their horizons.

For example, another woman of Cherokee and Pottawatomie descent who was a member of the Indian
Health Care Resource Center focus group started getting in trouble in eighth grade, leading to her
mother’s decision to home school her. That approach failed, she said, because her mother was working,
leaving the girl to teach herself most days. She later tried Franklin Alternative School, but didn’t like or
trust her classmates there, and when she became pregnant during her senior year, she dropped out. A
gifted soccer player, this situation cost her the chance to attend the University of Tulsa, which had of-
fered her a full athletic scholarship. She later got her GED and now works at Kindercare, and she eventu-
ally hopes to obtain a nursing degree from TTC. Despite still living with her mother, the two are not close,
and at no point did a mentor-type figure emerge in her life to help her make good decisions.

But not all mentoring lessons resulted from positive interactions. In nearly every group, at least one
member voiced the feeling that watching their parents make a mess of their own lives had made the stu-
dent determined to do better. Many, in fact, used the term “reverse mentoring” to describe the effect
their parents had had on their lives.

Additional Themes
Numerous secondary themes emerged from the discussions, as well. While many of the focus group par-
ticipants were still enrolled in school, some were so disengaged that they were getting very little from
the experience. For a good many of them, this feeling of isolation had begun years earlier – often in mid-
dle school but sometimes as far back as elementary school. Much of the time, it was external factors, and
not circumstances particularly related to school, that contributed to this situation. These reasons in-
cluded a host of social ills – divorce, poverty, physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, absentee parenting,
etc. – that relegated the idea of obtaining an education a secondary concern to simply surviving from day
to day. These concerns continued and often multiplied during the high school years, when unplanned
pregnancies and the need to work to help support the family often became pressing issues.

Another commonly voiced complaint was that alternative education models rarely met their needs, if
they were even able to access them. Many students felt stigmatized by attending alternative schools and
felt unsafe there, and would have rather seen those programs included in a more traditional high school

setting, where they could have continued to participate in sports, clubs or school social events. There
were others who felt like they would have benefited a great deal from alternative programs but were
unable to gain admittance to them because of their limited size – or the contention that they had not
behaved or performed badly enough in school to be admitted to such a program.

Finally, many focus group participants balked at the very nature of the traditional school culture, com-
plaining that it was too structured and lacked any real opportunity for interaction. Many Hispanics and
the American Indian women felt isolated at school, given the lack of social opportunities designed espe-
cially for their culture. Soccer was one of the few school-related activities they found that appealed to
them, while most other activities, they believed, appealed primarily to Anglos and African-Americans.

School Administrator’s Perceptions
A great many of the focus groups participant observations were repeated by the administrators, instruc-
tor and community organizer who were interviewed. There was widespread recognition that the current
education model has failed vast numbers of students and that the dropout rate has reached epidemic
proportion, with grave consequences for the nation’s economic health in the years to come.

Jane Quinn, assistant executive director for community schools at the Children’s Aid Society in New York
City, addressed this concern directly when she cited a recent speech by former Boston Public Schools
Superintendent Tom Payzant, who believes public schools simply have not caught up with the myriad
social changes that have washed over America in recent decades. Payzant points out that urban high
schools in America have long had a dropout rate approaching 50%, but many of those dropouts were still
able to obtain a good-paying, labor-oriented job. That was possible, he says, because 60% of the jobs in
the American workforce were considered to be of the unskilled variety. Now, he says, 60% of jobs re-
quire skilled labor and are presumably beyond the reach of those without a high school education.

The administrators – Julian Wilson, principal at Tulsa’s Alcott Elementary School; Caleb Starr, assistant
principal at Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School; Lyda Wilbur, assistant principal at Rogers; Tara Schiffelbein,
assistant principal at Union’s Briarglen Elementary School; and Tamra Bird, principal at Briarglen – all
voiced great hopes for a couple of new alternative approaches that are being employed in local schools,
ninth-grade academies and community schools.

Under the ninth-grade academy model being employed at Rogers, first-time freshmen are kept sepa-
rated from the rest of the student body in a free-standing building in an attempt to give them a chance
to acclimate to the increased expectations of high school and avoid falling under the influence of older
students who display negative or disruptive behavior. Rogers, for years one of the lowest-achieving high
schools in the district, is the only TPS school that has a ninth-grade academy, first employing it in 2006,
so there are limited results from which to draw conclusions. But Wilbur – who serves as director of the
academy – and Starr both believe it already has had a tremendous positive impact on their school.

Wilbur said the first order of business in making the ninth-grade academy a success was to change the
climate of the school, which she said was the first step in changing its culture. That included converting
the atmosphere in the academy from “toxic” to “safe,” and for that, she needed the full assistance of
teachers. Those who wanted to help make that change happen were welcomed, while those who re-
sisted were urged to leave.

Wilbur said the initial stages of the program made for a revolving door among teachers, with 40% of the
faculty turning over. “The first three years were really tough,” she said. “But this year has been

of the faculty turning over. “The first three years were really tough,” she said. “But this year has been
different for us. We’ve even been able to gain back several teachers.”

Wilbur said the Rogers administration is trying to build a school with the right people in the right places –
not just in the administration, but among the faculty, where it is hoped that peer pressure will lead less-
motivated teachers to do their jobs better and become more engaged. Unfortunately, the culture at
Rogers will take longer to change, she acknowledged, but she said the excuse “We’ve always done it this
way” is no longer acceptable at the school.

Wilbur said important changes have been made in the instructional pattern, as well. Students who strug-
gle in math and English have been taken out of some of their electives and are enrolled in “double-block
scheduling” – that is, intensive, consecutive classes of math or English designed to help the student catch
up to his or her grade level. Particularly in math, the preliminary results from this program have been
very encouraging, she said.

An important indicator of the success of the ninth-grade academy at Rogers is the decline in the number
of referrals each year, said Caleb Starr, the school’s other assistant principal who works in the main build-
ing. Students are issued referrals for tardiness, misbehavior or missing class completely, and Starr said
the number of referrals has declined sharply over the last three years. The atmosphere at Rogers when
Starr began work there two years ago could be defined as hostile or chaotic, he said, with 14,000 days of
suspensions handed out. But the climate now is much more calm, and Rogers has become a place where
the increased expectations are widely known, he said. “I don’t want this labeled as a fun school, a cool
school,” he said.

Starr also discussed the need to quit teaching students facts and instead teach them the critical thinking
skills that will allow them to be a success in an a marketplace that likely will require them to change ca-
reers several times. “I’m preparing kids for jobs that don’t even exist (now),” he said. “It does me no
good to give them facts. I’m teaching them to solve problems.”

As an example, Starr cited the example of a recently graduated student he ran into recently. The student
had become a cell phone repairman and was making very good money – upward of $35 an hour at one
point. But as the circumstances of that market changed – most cell phones are now viewed as dispos-
able, meaning they are not repaired but simply thrown away and replaced – that kind of work all but dis-
appeared. Starr said that student is now back in vocational training, learning a new career.

“We have to change the model of education in Oklahoma, but I don’t know what that looks like,” Starr

Other approaches being taken at Rogers are attempts to create a dean of students position to concen-
trate on helping students avoid becoming dropouts and an academic coach, who would be charged with
helping students identify and apply for scholarship opportunities, as well as help students stay connected
to the school. Both positions would be federally funded.

All the administrators interviewed for this summary identified a single factor – absenteeism – as the sin-
gle most important factor in determining whether a student would go on to graduate from high school.
Starr cited statistics indicating that a student who misses 10 days or more in a school year has only a 55%
change of passing that grade. “If they miss 10 days of education at any level, they’re struggling,” he said.

Elementary school administrators said that model may be used with great accuracy to predict whether

even a first or second grader will go on to graduate from high school. And for many students from low-
income families in which the parents are obliged to move a lot to pursue work opportunities or find less-
expensive housing arrangements, that chronic absenteeism is almost a given, according to Wilson, the
principal at Alcott, a north Tulsa elementary with an enrollment of 97% African-Americans. He said 15%
of his students come from families that he classifies as “mobile,” meaning that student likely will change
schools at some point during the year, and that greatly increases that child’s chances of failure. He cited
the case of one family with children in the school who started the year at Alcott, moved to another
school at mid-year, then moved back to Alcott at the end of the year.

Many other students, particularly those from single-parent homes, are expected to provide child care for
younger siblings by the time they are in fourth or fifth grade while the parent works, Wilson said, leading
to prolonged absences from school.

“Those attendance problems are reflected in their work life (when those students grow up),” he said. “As
are attitude problems. They bounce from job to job just as they did from school to school.”

Alcott is one of a handful of Tulsa and Union public schools that serve as a community school, a pilot pro-
gram new to the metro area that has already met with considerable success in other cities across the
country. The community schools program, which exists exclusively in local elementary schools at this
point, is designed to make the school an integral part of its neighborhood with after-hours programs not
just for students, but their families, as well. In-school clinics, community gardens, community meals, af-
ter-school tutoring and snacks for students and parents, and other programs have been established to-
ward the goal of increasing parental involvement and making them feel invested in their children’s edu-

Rogers’ Starr is a big fan of community schools and believes they could have a major impact on students
by the time they reach high school. “I like the idea and don’t know why we went away from community
schools,” he said. “We lost the sense of family there, and I hope we get it back.”

Union’s Briarglen Elementary – a school with a student body 40% Hispanic, 40% Anglo, 18% African-
American and 2% other, where 85% of students are on the free or reduced lunch program – is also a
community school. Bird, the school’s principal, said one aspect of its community schools program – the
free community meal it helps stage every Wednesday night at the nearby Garnett Church of Christ – has
become a huge success.

“We were approached by the Garnett Church of Christ to partner with them in their Community Kitchens
Project,” she said. “That’s kind of our crown jewel. We’ll never have a health facility here – the niche
we’re fulfilling is that hunger piece. We use that as our cornerstone. It really has opened a lot of doors. A
lot of people who come to those every week don’t have hunger issues in their family, but it is a good
time for them to bond.”

Bird said when the community meal program began, about 100 people attended. By November, that
number had swelled to 500 people and was still growing.

Another factor that has allowed the Briarglen administration to connect with local families is the bilingual
ability of Schiffelbein, the assistant principal. She said that with a growing Hispanic population at the
school, her ability to speak Spanish with parents who can’t speak English is crucial. That advantage was
illustrated when Briarglen was required to send parents notification last year that it had failed to meet
adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Parents were told they had
the right to transfer their children to another school in the district. But because of the language barrier,
many Hispanic parents misinterpreted the letter to mean that Briarglen was being closed, and the stu-
dents had to find another school, Schiffelbein said.
A series of panicked phone calls from Hispanic parents ensued, leading Bird to call a town hall meeting
the next night. There, Schiffelbein was able to reassure more than 100 Hispanic parents that the school
was not closing and that they had the right to continue to send their children to Briarglen, as they

Afterward, Schiffelbein and Bird asked for questions from the audience. There was a short pause, then a
parent rose and asked, “What can we do to help?” Unprompted, another parent rose and said, “You have
to read to your kids every night.”

Schiffelbein and Bird both indicated that was exactly the message they’ve been trying to send parents for
years. They both felt gratified that they were able to convert a potentially negative situation into an op-
portunity to promote parental involvement, and the ability to communicate with Hispanic parents in
their native language was the impetus for that.

The issue of No Child Left Behind has also had an important impact on the dropout rate discussion. Many
of the administrators interviewed for this summary welcomed the increased accountability the law has
brought to their schools, but they fret over its rigid nature and the impact it has had on daily scheduling.
The demands of NCLB lead to such a strict adherence to a daily schedule that they leave little or no time
for other activities that would beneficial to producing a well-rounded student, they say. Starr said he
would love to be able to schedule more pep rallies to promote school pride or stage a Cinco de Mayo
parade to make his Hispanic students feel more welcome at Rogers, but the loss of even a single day of
instruction can put some of his instructors hopelessly behind, he said. That also eliminates the possibility
of field trips designed to allow students to interact with professionals who might become role models or
mentors for them, he said.

Another program that shows promise is the CareerTech carpentry program at TTC for which Mike Coving-
ton serves as an instructor. The class meets from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, with advanced students
afforded the chance to actually go to work for a contractor on Fridays. Students are paid $10 an hour to
go to school, learn carpentry and pursue their GED. Covington has devised a curriculum consisting of
eight units – safety, mathematics, hand tools, power tools, blueprints, rigging, communication and em-
ployability – and after completing those eight units, the student can then work three days a week on the
job site for four weeks. After that, the contractor can put the student to work full time. The program is
designed to take three to four months to complete, including the earning of a GED.

The program began in June 2008 with 14 students, but three were forced to dropout almost immediately
after they failed to qualify because of what Covington believes are overly strict income and attendance
requirements. Eleven students came to class most of the time, but only seven went on to complete the
curriculum. Two members of that first class completed the four-week apprenticeship with the contractor
and went on to find full-time work in the field.

Covington believes that’s a relatively high success rate, given the long odds against success many of the
participants face. To illustrate the demands many of his students face in their personal lives, Covington
said one of his current students now works a schedule in which he closes at two pizza restaurants, then
gets up every weekday to attend class. Many of them also suffer big gaps in those social skills, Covington
said, which he also strives to fill. “We try to teach them table skills and life skills like catching a bus, get-
ting an apartment and balancing a checkbook,” he said.

Covington has learned that being too strict with students who come from such challenging personal cir-
cumstances is no way to help them succeed. “I don’t push it on them,” he said. “I just try to be consistent
in what I will put up with and what I won’t. I tell them, ‘Everybody’s circumstances are different – even
me,’ ” he said.

Covington said funding for the program is sufficient to the point that anyone who qualifies for it is ac-
cepted, but those qualification standards can be problematic, he said. The income allowance is very low,
and students must have already dropped out to be accepted, he said, meaning many individuals who
would benefit from the program cannot participate. He also said the original attendance requirements
were unrealistic, but they have since been relaxed. Now, he said, students are paid for the percentage of
time they actually attend class, and that serves as sufficient motivation for most of them.

Despite their promising nature, programs like the ones cited in this summary are being done on a small
scale, thus producing a limited impact. Starr is a big believer in innovation in education, but he says there
is no “magic bullet” program out there that is going to result in a 40% reduction in the dropout rate. He
also sees one major factor that inhibits the adoption of new programs.

“It’s inevitable that something is going to fail, for whatever reason,” he said. “We can’t afford to fail kids,
so we should be trying something different.”

But that risk of failure precludes many of those programs from getting a chance, Starr said. “There is re-
sistance to innovative programs for this reason – with so little money available for education, officials are
hesitant to implement a program they’re not sure will produce positive results.”


Shared By: