We all know the first step to overcoming a problem is to admit there is a problem.
Consider school officials, and especially those leading some of the largest urban districts, to be on step one in their fight against dropouts.
In rapid succession recently, we’ve seen several large districts admit that dropouts are a major problem. Houston started, grudgingly.
In July, the Texas Education Agency investigated claims that dropouts in the Houston Independent School District went unreported. It examined the records of about 5,500 students who had left 16 Houston schools in 2000-01 without graduating. The state agency found that almost 3,000 of them should have been counted as dropouts, but were not.
A New York Times editorial called on Secretary of Education (and former Houston school superintendent) Rod Paige to explain the discrepancies. Paige defended his former district’s accomplishments, but did admit to the Times “there probably was” a dropout problem in Houston.
New York City Chancellor Joel I. Klein addressed his city’s dropout problem, after avoiding comment on the issue for two months. “The problem of what’s happening to students is a tragedy,” he told the Times, referring to a system where students were pushed out of school once they fell behind in high school work. “It’s not just a few instances; it’s a real issue.”
And in this month’s Administrator Profile (p. 19), Dallas Superintendent Mike Moses admits his district is starting to confront its own dropout problem.
The big question in these districts is how to fix the problem. I think Klein summed up the important second step: “The information [about dropouts] should be out there and it should be clear. You’re never going to change the system unless you’re brutally honest.”
In New York City, and apparently Houston too, one glitch was in how students who leave school are classified. Both systems appear to be unnecessarily complicated; Houston is studying how to create a single definition of dropout.
Admitting there is a problem and quantifying that problem are the first two necessary steps in a process where the last step—actually fixing the problem—is by far the hardest challenge.
Wayne D’Orio, Editorial Director