The Billings Gazette on Dropouts: Not Much of An Answer

Two opinion pieces in the Billings Gazette today take a look at the issue of dropout rates in Montana high schools, but fail to offer any meaningful answers about solving the problem. In the unsigned Gazette editorial, the advice is less than profound:

If the numbers cause concern, call your local superintendent and school trustees. Find out what your schools are doing (or not doing) to prevent dropouts. Get involved to help them do better.

I guess that’s better than not doing anything, but just barely. Given that the Gazette relied heavily on a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, it seems odd that they didn’t call for the specific proposals advocated by that group, located here. Some of the answers? Enhanced reading programs for struggling readers, personalized education, college level preparation, and increased expectation for students.

Throw out all of the catchphrases and suggestions for reform, and the answer becomes relatively simple: students, teachers, and administrators need to work harder. We need increased commitment to meaningful outcomes and renewed focus on ensuring that all students have access to college level skills. Another excellent report, called Rethinking High School, looked at the characteristics of schools that have made huge improvements, and found five common factors:

  • Helping students from low-income and under-served communities see college as an attainable goal
  • Strengthening academic programs with full access to rigorous, college preparatory curriculum
  • Ensuring a coherent, fully articulated curriculum from middle grades through high school
  • Providing extra academic and social supports during students’ critical freshman year
  • Drawing out-of-school youth back into the classroom

Sometimes, the answers are so obvious that we lead ourselves away from them. Helping students stay in school depends on giving them the skills to succeed, making sure that the content is progressively challenging, and believing that all of them should be given the opportunity to achieve college graduation or the jobs they dream about. Along the way, we need to pay special attention to students who need the most help. Until we commit to those simple principles, no education reform program can hope to make a difference.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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