Struggling high school students need a redo

Thursday, March 5, 2009

If given a choice between doing a job we think we can complete satisfactorily or a job that is beyond our abilities, we invariably choose success over failure. That's human nature.

Concerned community members who are looking for ways to improve high school graduation rates might want to consider the choices being given to students who are likely to give up rather than graduating.

At-risk high school students often lack the basic building blocks on which to successfully pursue a diploma. If they can't read, for example, they can't expect to do well in any subject. If their math skills are limited, they are likely to have difficulty figuring out other subjects as well. And on and on.

At its first meeting recently, a group of school and city officials met under the sponsorship of the United Way of Southeast Missouri to look at the dropout problem and come up with ways for improving the statistics.

Last year the Central High School graduation rate fell to 72 percent from 76.4 percent the year before. Other area schools have graduation rates in the 90-plus percent range.

Based on its initial discussion, the group concluded that poverty is one root cause of the declining graduation rate. And the souring national and local economy is adding to the problem. Job losses and other financial factors mean some students move frequently. Changing schools contributes to poor performance.

Some educators, however, point to other students in the same situation who do well in school in spite of the many obstacles they face. These students have good reading skills and have mastered the basics of the elementary grades. They can handle the material presented in high school classrooms.

Along with poverty and the many other causes of worsening dropout rates -- topics that will no doubt be covered in future meetings by the community task force -- giving struggling students the basic skills needed to succeed remains a crucial factor. Tutoring, mentoring and providing opportunities to succeed will go a long way toward putting diplomas into the hands of more high school seniors.

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