College & Workforce Readiness

Chicago’s Would-Be Dropouts Must Sign Consent Form

By Darcia Harris Bowman — March 24, 2004 3 min read
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Students who want to drop out of high school in Chicago must now sign a consent form that warns about the likely consequences of not earning a diploma.

The disclosure form, which must also be signed by parents, is part of an amended dropout policy adopted by the Chicago board of education last month that officials say builds on a series of recent efforts by the city district to curb its dropout rate and reduce truancies.

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View the accompanying table, “Dropout Form.”

“Parents and students need to be aware of what the possible consequences are of dropping out of school, before they make a choice that may dramatically impact their life,” Arne Duncan, the district’s chief executive officer, said in a Feb. 26 statement announcing the new policy.

The district must also provide families with other notices as well. Those include: a description of the educational services, such as tutoring, that a child waives when he or she leaves school early; information about a student’s right to return to school unless he or she is too far behind to graduate by age 21; and information on alternative education services.

Finally, the policy calls for providing statistics for students and their families that illustrate the consequences of dropping out of school—a requirement that is partly fulfilled by the new consent form.

In signing that form, students must acknowledge that they are “less likely to find good jobs that pay well, bad jobs that don’t pay well, or maybe any jobs,” and that they increase their chances of ending up in jail or prison.

The form ends with the principal’s signature and a final statement in bold: “It’s not too late to stay in school.”

Deterrent Effect?

The Chicago school system has an annual dropout rate of roughly 13 percent, a record low since the city’s mayor took control of the 435,000- student school system in 1995, according to district officials. State law requires all children age 15 or younger to attend schools.

Requiring informed consent from would-be dropouts between the ages of 16 and 18, and their parents, is a rule that replaces an old policy that allowed students to inform schools of their decision to leave with a mere telephone call.

District officials say the form also builds on other policies adopted recently by the school system. Those include setting school attendance goals, offering attendance incentives to schools such as concerts and celebrity visits, placing social-service workers in schools with the lowest attendance records, and better training staff members to identify family and personal problems that might interfere with a student’s ability to come to school.

Still, some critics say the consent form won’t be much of a deterrent for students who have given up on school.

“This is not a dropout- prevention policy. It’s a cover-your-ass policy,” charged G. Alfred Hess, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who has studied the Chicago school system.

“The statement is good and might scare a few students into not signing the form,” Mr. Hess added, but “it is unlikely it will keep any kids in school and lead towards their graduation.”

Most students drop out of school because they have failed to earn enough credits to continue, the researcher said.

“Students who are not making this progress and still have no or few credits when they turn 16 are making a rational decision when they drop out,” he argued. “They are saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got nothing to show for the last two years. Why would I suddenly be successful in the next four years that it would take for me to graduate at age 20?’”

The best ways to prevent students from leaving school early without diplomas, Mr. Hess said, is to raise achievement levels and improve instruction. Both are goals that the district has had limited success in meeting, he said.

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