Finding Solutions for High School Dropouts

The high school dropout rate is a known problem in Texas and Houston, but the question remains what to do about it. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the Children at Risk advocacy group is leading the charge to get best practices, resources and training to school administrators and teachers.

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Children at Risk conducted a study of Houston ISD students and found half of them will not graduate within four years. About a third of students in all of Harris County will drop out. Children at Risk President and CEO Dr. Bob Sanborn says research shows the primary reason for dropouts is disengagement from school.

"We live in a society now where everything is - we want it tailored to us. You know we have our own MyYahoo page, our own Google page, our Myspace page. And in a sense we have to tailor our public education to be the same way - that we focus on the needs of those individual students. They can't be the big factories of the 1950s where kids come in and learn and they leave and get a job. We need to look at what are the needs of those students - again engage them in their education."

A couple hundred people gathered at St. Thomas University to hear updates on the dropout problem and possible solutions. Sanborne says public school systems need to shift more toward the approach taken by charter schools -- things like flexible school hours, longer school years maybe even school on Saturdays.

"There's going to have to be wholesale change. Things really have to change, we can't keep the system that we have. Teachers are going to need to be trained to be more engaged in the classroom, they're going to need to be smaller for some of these kids, learning communities need to be small. We certainly have the means to do it, we have the ability, we have the know-how -- we're just not doing it right now. So hopefully with this conference we're going to be able to get some of that motivation going."

Changes at the institutional level are just one factor in the equation. Conference participants noted it will also take a tremendous amount of participation from parents. And Houston Mayor Bill White addressed the group, calling on individual citizens who care about the community to get personally involved with at-risk students.

"Our job is to do what's right for the kids. Otherwise, forget it. Part of that is also accepting the fact that there will be people who need mentors. And we need to make sure that when we address what we need to do, we talk about both legislation and this thing called policy and we also talk about how to engage members of the community."

White reminded the stakeholders they don't need to quote solve the problem, as long as they're making progress and continually improving. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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