Our nation expends a lot of valuable time, energy and money educating our children. Much of this effort is spent trying to understand how students learn best, how to help students who are struggling in certain subjects and even what time of day students are most alert and capable of learning. However, there is little being done to re-engage students who have already slipped through the cracks in the school system.
According to a recent Education Week article, as many as 20% of the country’s students drop out every year. Despite this troubling statistic, there has been little research done on how to re-engage disaffected students and few efforts aimed at getting them back in school.
This is starting to change, especially at the district level. The article cites a recent study conducted by the Center for Promise, which is the research arm of America’s Promise Alliance. The study found that model programs in Boston and Houston are finding effective ways to reach students left on the margins. Jonathan Zaff, executive director and principal research investigator for the Center for Promise, said these programs allow staff to “go out into the community to connect with youth who have left school, nurture those relationships and nudge them toward re-engaging.”
This reminds me of a similar program being implemented at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Superintendent Heath Morrison and his staff personally visit the homes of students who have dropped out to understand their unique situations and encourage them to return to school. Dr. Morrison said, “We cannot afford to let so many of our students abandon their education. A high school diploma isn’t a guarantee of success — but not having one is almost a guarantee of failure.”
Nearly half of the students surveyed in the Center for Promise study indicate that they returned to school because of the support and encouragement they received from someone at the school. Making a personal effort can have a huge impact, and I hope to see these practices replicated in school districts across the country.