Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reducing the Dropout Rate

The Oklahoma Education Association has been actively involved in a variety of programs that will reduce the drop out rate. This column was in the Oklahoman today or you can read it below.

In recent days, The Oklahoman has featured the importance of addressing the dropout rate. While there may be a variety of reasons kids drop out, it is important for them, and for Oklahoma and our nation, that they remain in school. The Oklahoma Education Association is committed to addressing those needs.

The OEA has initiated and participated in "community conversations” projects, which seek input and ideas from the community served by schools so the school can better understand and address the issues and concerns important to that community.

The first project involves Putnam City West High School and the Hispanic community. Listening to the concerns of parents and using bilingual communication allows for the opportunity to address needs in a non-intimidating fashion. Because of these conversations, parents and teachers more fully understand the barriers that language can play in impeding parental involvement. Parents want to be involved and want help because they want the best for their children and that means keeping them in school.

In Weatherford, the OEA joined an already-formed task force addressing the needs of American Indian students that includes the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe. Understanding the Native American culture and having those conversations with parents and tribal leaders will give everyone involved in education a greater opportunity to keep students in school.

On March 30, the featured topic at the second annual OEA Educator’s and Clergy Conference will be the dropout issue and how we can focus on ways in which schools can work with the faith community to have an impact on the dropout rates.

The ability to read is essential for kids to be successful and stay in school; not being able to read contributes greatly to the increase in the dropout rate. The OEA Read Across America program not only promotes the love and joy of reading, but also the positive impact being able to read has on students’ lives. In the past 12 years, tens of thousands of kids have participated in the program and been exposed to positive reading experiences.

It is extremely important for students and parents to understand the economic impact on the dropout. According to U.S. Census Bureau, a high school dropout will annually earn approximately $19,169 as compared with $28,645 for someone with a diploma or $51,554 for an individual with a bachelor’s degree.

No matter what the reasons for dropping out, quality teachers make all the difference in the world. OEA members mentor kids and provide a variety of opportunities for them to be successful and stay in school. There are also many times where students unburden themselves to caring teachers and counselors and the bonds formed between student and teacher keeps kids in school as well.

The OEA is serious about lowering the dropout rate. Losing even one child is unacceptable. We all need to work together to address this issue. Dropout rates aren’t statistics; they’re kids Oklahoma can’t afford to lose.


Bill Betzen said...

The heart of our student dropout issue is motivation. I see the problem increase in our middle schools. Thousands of hours are wasted in middle school. Students then repeat the 9th grade. Most dropouts never make it to the 10th grade. Too much of our focus is only to motivate toward the next test, not for goals in life. Thus we have enrollment patterns like the one you can see on charts for Dallas ISD like the ones at
Once we begin to focus on long term student motivation the educational world changes. We did that in 2005 at our inner city Dallas middle school with a 350-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby under spotlights. The students immediately asked about it and were told it was the School Archive for letters they would write to themselves before leaving for high school. These letters document their history to date and their plans for the future. They are sealed into a self-addressed envelope. The last week of 8th grade, after a Language Arts Class group photo in front of the School Archive with each student holding their letter in front of them, they each place their letters onto their classes shelf inside the vault. It will stay there for a decade. They are given a copy of that photo with details on the back for their 10-year class reunion in November of that 10th year.

They know they will then retrieve their letters and also be invited to speak with the then current 8th grade classes about their recommendations for success. They are warned that the decade younger students may then ask them questions like "Would you do anything differently if you were 13 again?"

The School Archive Project is now preparing for the 5th class to place letters into the Archive this next May. At the two high schools our students attend, that used to be some of the highest dropout rate high schools in Dallas ISD, the 9th to 10th grade dropout rate has gone down 40% in the past two years. (See charts at taken from Texas Education Agency data.)
We are cutting the dropout rate during the transition where it used to be the worst, between 9th and 10th grade. Now to get them to graduation and back for their 10-year reunions that start in November of 2014.

Everything we need to know about keeping students motivated and in school has certainly not yet been achieved! Money is NOT the only thing needed. This project costs only about $2/student.

The School Archive Project is being presented this week at the Texas School Improvement Conference in Austin (

Bill Betzen
The School Archive Project - A Dropout Cure
Quintanilla Middle School
2700 Remond Dr.
Dallas, Texas 75211
214-957-9739 (cell)

Anonymous said...

I am so frustrated at the antique attitude of Oklahoma education. There is apparently no room for change that will affect the future education priorities for this small town I live in. I see the native american kids (including my own son) failed and placed back into the same grade they just completed. For what--even though they passed these classes--with A's and B's they missed the "magic" number of grades to enable them to finish that year. So they go back and repeat with embarrassment and shame as they have failed. What kind of message does this send to them I think to be 18 and still a freshman is very difficult for most and it is at that point they give up. That seriously sets a tone for the rest of their young lives. Please OEA look at the policies--implement change--help these kids.

Roy Bishop said...

To Anonymous--

We are involved with a community conversation regarding Native-American Issues in Weatherford with the school district and the Cheyenee-Arapaho Tribes.

Please contact the local affiliate in your district and help us make a difference.

You can also email me at I will respect your privacy.