About 75 percent of high school students in the United States graduate on time, but those who never get a diploma often earn less, resulting in lost economic activity for the country at large.
How to boost the graduation rate? Take a holistic approach to engaging and empowering students, involving a range of community organizations and resources in addition to schools, says Elaine Wynn, chairman of Communities In Schools, a national nonprofit dedicated to preventing dropouts that operates in more than 3,400 schools.
Wynn, a member of the board of directors of luxury hotel and casino developer Wynn Resorts, recently spoke with U.S. News about how the CIS model works and what legislators can do to address the dropout rate. Excerpts:
How critical is addressing the high school dropout rate?
When half or more of our minorities are not graduating high school and joining the pool of candidates for post-secondary education, it does not bode well for the country. It's a social justice issue, it's an equity issue, so it's a much broader problem than just the mere numbers game.
What is the impact of lowering the dropout rate and raising the graduation rate?
How about $2.6 billion? If you read the [new Communities In Schools] report, we have tried to quantify it. People who have a high school diploma in the terms of their life are going to earn more than people that don't. That also translates to their capacity to contribute to more services by becoming responsible citizens and taxpayers.
[Read more about how higher education impacts salary.]
What does Communities In Schools do?
We've acknowledged that kids, in order to succeed, have to be treated in a holistic fashion. The most challenged students are the ones who are deprived of resources and have a myriad of barriers in the way that prevent them from coming to school prepared emotionally, physically, and in every other way to be taught.
Most communities have a variety of groups and agencies that exist to address specific problems. For instance, there are food banks that can address hunger, there are mentoring organizations, there are after-school programs. As you start to provide one service and it takes hold, if the kids start to falter, you go bring the other service that they may need. And you pile on this amount of caring and you're leveraging funds and personnel that already exist in these agencies.
Has it been shown to be effective?
In terms of this [new CIS] report, clearly these numbers are amazing. To be able to show that for every dollar you invest you get $11.60 back worth of advantage is amazing. We also have academic results. We did an independent five-year evaluation that showed that we improved the graduation rate, we decreased the dropout rate, we improved academic performance in the fourth and eighth grades in English, language arts, and math.
What should policymakers do?
First and foremost the acknowledgment of the teaching profession as critical and the right to have it be properly funded is always going to be an important thing. The establishment of the common core standards was a very good place to arrive at.
What can parents and educators do?
There has to be an acknowledgment where everybody just rolls up their sleeves, gets more knowledgeable about the problem, and understands that there is no silver bullet. Children are organisms that have more needs than just academic needs, and that the only way that they can succeed academically is if their emotional and physical needs are also addressed. And it's not easy work. And you can't escape the governance part of it, too. It's about leadership and putting pressure on policymakers not to be simplistic.
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