Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Silent Epidemic

It's almost June, so naturally, there's a lot of chatter right now about graduation and, perhaps more importantly, graduation rates. Consider last Thursday's news about a new national database promising the first accurate look at states' graduation rates.

Compiled by the national education magazine, Education Week, this online map allows users to generate a PDF report of any school district in the country using a street address. The site tabulates graduation data for school systems by tracking the size of a high school class from the fall of freshman year to graduation day. The data shows that about one-third of all high school students do not graduate within four years, and that 50 percent of all dropouts nationwide are from a small group of mainly urban high schools. Here's the map I generated locally for the Olympia School District. The program allows you to compare districts across the state and the nation and breaks down at what point in the progression (ninth-grade, 10th-grade, etc.) students exit the system.

Generating real numbers about graduation is something that may continue to garner attention, particularly heading into the 2008 election where groups like the Broad/Gates Foundations' "Ed in '08" campaign is making education a policy priority.

And of all the groups you'd least expect (but in a weird way, might hope) pay attention to this national problem, MTV recently aired a documentary and launched a co-branded Web site about dropouts in America. "The Dropout Chronicles" debuted on May 9 and follows three high school students in their progression toward this American rite of passage. MTV is well-known among its target audiences for reality shows like "The Real World" where groups of college-age men and women are thrown together in not-so-real-world housing (a fully furnished loft on the Seattle waterfront for college students?).

If "The Dropout Chronicles" doesn't sugarcoat things, it could be one way to reach kids already tuned into this channel about a very real topic.

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