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About 10,000 students across Massachusetts drop out of school each year. On Wednesday, the Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission is issuing its recommendations to slash that number in half over the next five years.
The key recommendation would gradually increase the compulsory age from 16 to 18 years, in part to give students more time to think about their education before choosing whether or not to drop out. But studies of other states with a compulsory age of 17 or 18 show that a mandate must be enforced, not simply enacted.
"A mandate simply to increase the school age by itself won't accomplish anything," said Paul Reville, the Massachusetts education secretary and the dropout commission's chairman. "But if we do it with appropriate supports, we're confident we can make some reductions in the dropout rate."
Other strategies include expanding a pilot program that acts as an early warning system — providing the names of struggling ninth graders before they start school so teachers can address their problems right away. High schools in 24 districts are participating.
Research shows you can identify children on the path to dropping out at early as third grade if they cannot read well. In sixth grade, studies show a child whose attendance is below 90 percent has only an 18 percent chance of graduating on time. The likelihood of dropping out also increases for eighth graders who don't do well on MCAS or transfer between schools often. Right now, most high school have no idea which students are on the path toward failure.
After Dropping Out, Trouble Re-Engaging
For students who have already dropped out of school, the commission recommends increasing targeted intervention, creating more mentors and finding ways to connect school to college and college to careers.
Earlier this year, WBUR and WGBH reported a series on the dropout rate. Many young adults said they regretted dropping out but didn't know how to re-engage.
"I know how difficult it would be to get by without a diploma because I seen all my cousins, uncles, everybody in my family — not a lot of people have graduated not a lot of people have high school diplomas, so I knew what I was going to be expecting," said Antonio Rosa, 20, of Chelsea.
"Now that I’m dropped out now, I got nothing but mad regrets. I wish I was still in school. I wish I would have finished. It would have made my life a lot easier."
The report also touches on promising programs that are already happening. One example is the Boston Private Industry Council, which has specialists who seek out students who have dropped out and finds ways to help them go back to school.
The report also recommends expanding alternative schools, which offer flexible learning time and more attention to the students. There are 12,000 students in the state who want access to them, but they are usually expensive and not well-funded.
The dropout commission did not put a dollar figure on the proposals, but did recommend that the state should reach out to philanthropic and non-profit organizations for funding help.
Much of the commission's report focused on the consequences of the dropout rate.
"Each student who drops out of school constitutes a failure of the education system, a personal tragedy, and a loss to the commonwealth," Reville said.
Dropouts are less likely to have a job; those who do are likely to earn less than people who hold a degree, and they are more likely to be depending on public assistance. Even in this precarious fiscal climate, the report says, the state's dropout problems cannot be ignored.
Click "Listen Now" to hear WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov explain the commission's findings to WBUR's Bob Oakes.
This program aired on October 21, 2009.
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