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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Drop Outs Don’t Drive

By Peter DeWitt — August 21, 2011 3 min read
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Once a month I do parenting segments with Subrina Dhammi and education segments with Elaine Houston on WNYT which is the NBC affiliate in Albany, NY. Subrina approached me a few weeks ago about new legislation being introduced in New York State and wanted to do a news segment on it. It was entitled Drop Outs Don’t Drive.

Students drop out of high school through a couple of different mechanisms. One way they can go through the process of dropping out is through a meeting with their parents, guidance counselor and school principal. Parents are allowed to “sign them out” so they do not have to attend school any more.

School administrators and staff do their best to talk them out of this because they know it can have long term effects on the teenager. Some administrators, especially the ones I work with, attempt to keep the student enrolled by adjusting the student’s schedule, or offering alternate pathways to keep the student on track. If none of this works, a form is filled out, that explains the process everyone went through, what was offered, and other valuable data on the student.

The other mechanism offers the school administrators less of a chance to talk with the student. The student in question just stops attending classes. If the student is non-compulsory age, the student is automatically dropped because of non-attendance. Clearly, administrators and school staff do what they can to get the student to come back to school before they reach this point.

The legislation in New York State is very interesting because we all know students want to drive when they reach the legal age to do so. Actually, they begin to think about driving when they become a teenager. It’s one of the highlights of your teenage years. However, what about students who cannot afford to get their license? What about the students who live in a big city and do not care about driving? Is this a law more for rural, small city and suburban drop-outs?

I’m not sure if this proposed legislation will work but it is an interesting concept. Politicians should reach out to school systems for their input on legislation such as this, and they may find other creative proactive solutions to help as well. In addition, when working with school systems, politicians could make sure that all schools offer the same programs and ensure that every child attends a safe school. That may help decrease the number of students who drop out.

It’s wonderful that politicians are looking at creative ways to engage students in the educational process. However, instead of working in a vacuum, and finding something to hold over the heads of students at risk ,perhaps they could work on mandate relief for school systems. Therefore, students would be less likely to drop out of school because they would be able to take courses that interest them as opposed to courses they do not need.

In addition, politicians could work harder to repeal NCLB and change the nature of high stakes testing. Students who are unsuccessful on high stakes testing often feel like failures, which is sad, and that feeling of failure only lead students to be less engaged in the school system.

Although “Drop Outs Don’t Drive” is one method to keep kids in school, we should also take time to talk with students who have dropped out of school over the past few years and find out why they came to such a frustrating point in their lives that they think dropping out is the only alternative.

The bottom line is that when these ideas are being considered, educators should have a place in the discussion.

Click here to see the segment.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.