Friday, April 8, 2011

When high school dropouts are really determined


Psst: Age 18 dropout laws probably won’t fix this!

"Third grade is a kind of pivot point," says Donald J. Hernandez, sociology professor at Hunter College, at the City University of New York. "We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven't succeeded by 3rd grade it's more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then."

Quoted from a short article (subscription??) in Education Week’s Inside School Research blog, which should be mandatory reading for everyone involved with education in Kentucky, including our governor.

Hernandez’s study tracks students who were poor readers in the third grade through the rest of their school experience. Some of the study’s findings, shown by the bullets below, are stunning:

• One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade fail to graduate from high school on time, four times the rate for children with proficient third-grade reading skills.

• Children who have lived in poverty and are not reading proficiently in third grade are about three times more likely to dropout or fail to graduate from high school than those who have never been poor.

• Among children with two risk factors—poverty and reading skills below the proficient mark— 26 percent do not graduate from high school, compared to 9 percent with these subpar reading scores who have never experienced poverty.

Education Week had additional findings which I didn’t find in the main report. I suspect they come from an interview with Hernandez. Those findings are shown by the following bullets:

• Students who struggled with reading in early elementary school comprise 88 percent of those who did not receive a diploma by age 19.

In other words, you can spot the dropouts way back in third grade. This indicates that just extending the time in school to age 18 has little likelihood of improving graduation rates. The kids still can’t read, so they can’t do the work.

• Low reading skills are an even stronger predictor of dropping out than spending at least a year in poverty.

So much for the poverty excuse!

• 89 percent of students in poverty who did read on level by 3rd grade graduated on time. That’s statistically no different from the students who never experienced poverty but did struggle with reading early on.

Again, so much for the poverty excuse! WHEN poor kids get decent reading instruction, they also succeed.

• More than one in four poor, struggling readers did not graduate, compared with only 2 percent of good readers from wealthier backgrounds.

That’s over 25 percent versus just 2 percent, a ratio of more than 12 times, which shows kids who don’t learn to read by the third grade are phenomenally more likely to drop out of school.

So, let’s get this straight. It’s about reading, and doing it well by the end of third grade, or else very likely bad things are going to happen.

That means a dropout prevention plan that focuses on high school isn’t likely to work very well unless it first teaches challenged high school students to read, and then, somehow, miraculously overcomes years of ineffective education.

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