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Why Early Warning Indicator and Intervention Systems?

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July 02, 2012 03:02 pm


Click on image to watch video from the event







On June 20, the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Forum to Extend Middle Grade Reforms, and Association for Middle Level Education,  co-convened a briefing on how early warning indicator systems—which identify students at high risk of dropping out as early as sixth grade—can help keep students on track for graduation and accelerate student progress.

Speakers at the briefing included a researcher, Dr. Bob Balfanz of the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center; a practitioner, Catherine Miller, a teacher in Bronx, NY; and a policymaker, Regan Fitzgerald, legislative assistant on education issues for U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Alliance President Bob Wise moderated the event.

Two ideas discussed by Bob Balfanz particularly stuck in my mind: (1) How data can be used to reduce the strain on the entire education system; and (2) Reducing waste.

In his presentation, Balfanz noted that the traditional classroom was never set up to support a large number of off-track students. As the numbers in a single classroom increase and problems become more severe, teachers find that they are not equipped to address the needs of those students with problems. Additionally, teachers lack the energy and time to address the needs of students who are not behind. For this reason, the system needs to do a better job identifying students on the path to having problems and directing more targeted resources and supports to meeting their needs—both inside and outside the classroom.

The second idea on reducing waste is essential in thinking about the cost issues embedded in the previous proposition. After all, targeted supports and intervention systems need dedicated resources.  This was an issue raised by one audience member who was likely facing the reality of budget cuts impacting schools and districts across the country.  To this concern, Balfanz raised a very interesting argument that those following the Alliance will find all too familiar. If you think the intervention has costs, he said, just imagine the failure.

If you are interested in some of the costs and lost revenues associated with high school dropouts, you should look at the Alliance’s economic data. The research is clear that high school dropouts bring states and communities greater social costs and reduced tax revenues.

In addition to future costs, Balfanz said we should also think about present costs. Imagine a school district spends around $8,000 per pupil. When a student in this district repeats a grade because their needs weren’t identified and addressed earlier, the public essentially pays that $8,000 again. This doesn’t come down as wasted spending on any ledger I’m aware of, but that’s exactly what it is. Not only is the public paying twice for the same grade, it’s also contributing to the fact that the student will be much more likely to drop out later.

This is an issue that all policymakers should be well aware of. The solution here is not social promotion as has been the case in many districts. The solution is a stronger early warning indicator and intervention system.

To watch video from the event, click on the image above or visit here.

Ace Parsi is a policy and advocacy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.