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Ruth Herman Wells

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Ruth Herman Wells

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How to Reverse the Soaring Dropout Rate
By Ruth Herman Wells   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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We know that schools have had a rough year when all of our August on-site inservice dates are booked by April. We ran out of summer inservice dates this year earlier than ever before. Recent research released in the past few weeks confirms that this was a rough school year. Specifically, the national dropout rate is becoming so egregious that it has become an epidemic, many of the researchers suggest.

     We know that schools have had a rough year when all of our August
     on-site inservice dates are booked by April. We ran out of summer
     inservice dates this year earlier than ever before. Recent research
     released in the past few weeks confirms that this was a rough school
     year. Specifically, the national dropout rate is becoming so egregious
     that it has become an epidemic, many of the researchers suggest.

     For years, in our workshops, we have talked about the national   dropout rate running at about 25% on average. The new articles are pegging that rate now at a depressing 30%.  An article reprinted by the Public Education Network, observed that we would never tolerate a system where 30% of iPods malfunctioned or 30% of FedX packages never arrive, but that is essentially what has happened with K-12 education. 30% of high schoolers are not graduating.

     Years ago, moms and dads reliably conveyed to their offspring the
     importance of school, and provided assistance with homework,
     attendance and school performance. That sentence does not fit
     our contemporary times very well. If significant numbers of families
     are not gearing their sons and daughters to be motivated, prepared,
     skilled students, then someone has to take on that task, or many
     students will continue to flounder, and a whopping one-third will
     ultimately drop out. If schools would dedicate themselves to
     providing School Skills Training, they could stop working with
     untrained, unmotivated kids, and start working with trained,
     motivated students instead. We are not talking about re-stating
     expectations and rules. We are talking about literally training
     kids to be students, just like you train them to learn long division
     or conjugate a verb.

     If schools took 10% of the time and energy that they are compelled to
     dedicate to high stakes testing and shifted their efforts to School
     Skills Training, the worsening dropout rate might be reversed. What
     should School Skills Training include? Any skill, attitude or motivation
     that students need to succeed. For students at risk of dropping out,
     motivation might head the list, followed by attendance and punctuality.
     All students need specific skill training in areas like teacher inter-
action skills, homework management skills, class discussion skills,
hallway behavior, peer interaction skills, requesting help, and so on.
If your school expects these skills from students, but does not teach
them, that is unfair. It is not fair to expect skills you have not taught.
Here is a sampling of interventions for motivation, but to impact your
potential 30% dropouts, don't forget to also cover attendance,
punctuality and the other School Skills Training areas listed above.
If you need more methods than the small sampling of motivation-
makers provided here, follow-up resources are suggested at the bottom of this article, and there are hundreds more interventions throughout our site. Here is a great place to start; it's packed with
attention-grabbing motivation-makers-- all free:
     Here are School Skills Training methods for motivation that can
     boost student retention:

     Teachers Are Lousy Mind Readers
     The newly released studies of dropouts emphasize that there are
      many reasons that students quit school. The studies also note that
      if students receive help with their concerns, dropping out may
      become less necessary. For example, a student may feel the need
      to stay home to watch younger sibs. If that concern is communicated
      to a teacher, then the teacher or school may be able to assist. For
      example, the teacher might locate a social service or church group
      to help with baby sitting. Since students often do not vocalize the
      concerns they face that interfere with school, teach students that
      teachers are lousy mind readers, that they will have to tell the
      teacher exactly what the problem is so that the teacher can help.

      Find Out Now What You'll Know Later
      The new studies discuss that some students drop out to earn what
      seems like a lot of money. Help students understand that what looks
      like a lot of money now will look like "not enough money" later. There
      is a long and sad litany of the misery dropouts face. All students
      should learn about this reality as soon as possible. Here are just
      a few of the depressing realities of being a dropout in the new
      millennium; make sure your students know these facts so they
      don't have to live with them forever:
                          Dropouts earn less than everybody else
                          Most jobs require a diploma
                          The jobs open to dropouts are becoming fewer and
                              there may come a time, when there are almost
                              no jobs that will allow dropouts to apply
                           Dropouts often have to accept jobs that most
                              people consider unpleasant, demeaning and
                           Dropouts usually do not earn enough money to pay
                              their housing, food, utility and transportation bills
                           Dropouts often have to work two jobs just to
                           Dropouts can afford about 2/3 of a house or
                              apartment if they work one job
                           Dropouts may be only able to afford public trans-
                              portation or drive cars that are considered to
                              be old and not very desirable
                            Dropouts are often stuck with the jobs no one
                              else wants
                            Dropouts are the first fired and last hired
                            Dropouts can't afford health care and may have
                              to endure physical discomfort, or even suffering

        Diplomas Rule
        From early on, students need to understand the worth of that
        magic piece of paper. The California School Board Association
        web site quotes a dropout named Cheryl, who noted that she
        didn't think a diploma would matter because she "didn't feel
        that you had to have a high school diploma to get a job. But now
        you do. There's been jobs I wanted but they'd say 'high school
        diploma,' 'high school diploma.'" Teach your students about
        Cheryl, or ask dropouts in your area to come in and convey
        their regret to your group. Teach your students that no
        diploma in the 2000s is like no coat in Minnesota in winter.

        Drop Out, Lose Out
        Convince students that dropping out is foolish. Stop referring
        to yourself as a teacher, and switch to banker-- because each
        high school graduate earns $329,000 more than a dropout.
        A catch phrase to use: "Your diploma: So valuable, it belongs
        in your wallet." Another: "You've got a life. A diploma lets you
        live it."

        Speak the Language on High-Tech Planet
        The U.S. is becoming a high-tech place. Without education,
         you can't even keep up with the conversation. Demonstrate
         that to students by locating job applications posted on the
         internet, then ask students to complete the applications.
         Students will have to know terms like "PDF," "Adobe,"
         "Function Key," "Word Doc," "Spam Filters," "URLs" and
         others. You don't learn these terms by missing school, yet
         some day most job applications may be online, and include
         high-tech terms like these. Ask your students if they'll be

     Do You Like These Inventive Interventions?    

       We have hundreds more unusual, dynamic interventions
       for dropout prevention but we cover every "kid
       problem" imaginable. Visit our web site

Web Site: Motivation-Makers

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