Saying that “we’ve identified the crisis, and it will take everyone sharing responsibility to correct it,” National Education Association (NEA) President Reg Weaver unveiled a twelve-point plan to address the high school dropout crisis in the United States. The plan represents the combined efforts of parents, teachers, business leaders and lawmakers to present a comprehensive strategy to target high school dropouts.
“This is no longer about students slipping through the cracks of our educational system,” Weaver said. “Those cracks are now craters.”
One of the more intriguing parts of the NEA’s plan is a proposal to mandate high school graduation or an equivalent as compulsory for every person under the age of twenty-one. In addition to requiring students to stay in school until age twenty-one, the NEA plan would also create “high school graduation centers” that would cater to the needs of older students and provide specialized instruction and counseling in an environment separate from classes of younger students. For younger students, the plan proposes smaller learning communities within large schools and class sizes of eighteen or fewer students.
The dropout plan also proposes “creative partnerships with community colleges in career and technical fields and with alternative schools” so that students have another way to earn a high school diploma. In another effort to more closely tie school and work, the NEA would increase career education and workforce readiness programs in schools.
A key part of the plan involves reaching out to students before they become a dropout risk. The NEA would provide high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten to ensure that students get off to a good start and follow that up with strong elementary programs that ensure students are doing grade-level work when they enter middle school. For middle school students, the plan envisions programs that address early signs causes of dropping out while providing access to rigorous courses such as algebra, science, and others that serve as the foundation for success in high school and beyond.
Data are also of great importance in the NEA plan, which calls for states to adopt the standardized graduation rate reporting method developed by the National Governors Association and agreed to by most of the nation’s governors. The plan also stresses the importance of the family and community in ensuring that students remain in school. For example, it recommends that employers institute family-friendly policies that provide release time for employees to attend parent-teacher conferences and work schedules for high school students that enable them to attend classes on time, ready to learn.
The final part of the NEA’s plan involves resources. Educators should “have the training and resources they need to prevent students from dropping out,” the report reads. It lists professional development for teachers that is focused on the needs of diverse students and students who are at risk of dropping outOther supports needed include up-to-date textbooks and materials, computers and other information technology, and safe, modern schools. The report also calls on Congress and the president to “make high school graduation a federal priority” by investing $10 billion over the next ten years to support dropout prevention programs and states that make high school graduation compulsory.
Bethany Little, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s vice president for policy and federal advocacy, noted that the NEA has a critical role to play in the high school reform debate. “Given that the NEA represents 3 million teachers on the front lines of the battle, it’s hard to imagine winning the war without them,” she said.
More information on the NEA’s twelve-point dropout plan is available at http://www.nea.org/newsreleases/2006/nr061003.html.