How Can We Prevent Teenagers From Dropping Out of High School?
Boston To Make US 2024 Summer Olympic Bid
Make Field Hockey A High School Sport In Loudoun County
Remember: Parenting Teenagers Is About Preparing Them For Adult Life
Changing Demographics In Fairfax County To Impact Education
Is Medium The Future Of Media?

How Can We Prevent Teenagers From Dropping Out of High School?

When it comes to teenagers dropping out of high school, I think it is worth opening with the good news.

For starters, the dropout rate has declined from 12 percent in 1990 to approximately 7 percent in 2012. The improvement has been fairly proportional between females and males, which also is positive.

But perhaps best of all is that the dropout rate for black students declined from 13 to 8 percent, and Hispanic students went from a 32 percent dropout rate to 13 percent over that same time period.

Now for the sobering reality.

We still have over 1.2 million students dropping out of high school each year. That equates to 7,000 students a day dropping out of high school to face a much more difficult world. A world wherein their income potential diminishes significantly ($200,000 less over their lifetime than high school graduates and $1 million less than college graduates).

The likelihood a person who drops out of high school will commit and be convicted of a crime also rises. According to statistics, 75 percent of all crime in the US is committed by people without a high school diploma. In one study conducted by mayors in the state of Arizona, which has some of the nations most disengaged students, high school drop outs were estimated to cost the state “$1.7 billion in crime-related expenses” over their lifetimes. The cost in welfare was significantly lower at $26 million.

Perhaps one of the most shocking statistics that I have come across is that while teenagers drop out of high schools all across the country, there are approximately 2,000 schools that graduate less than 60 percent of their young people. These 2,000 schools are responsible for 50 percent (that’s right, half!) of all students who leave school every year.

Imagine the psychological impact on a teenager knowing that four or five out of every ten people in his or her class has no realistic chance to go to college or have a high paying job? Imagine hanging out with your friends on the weekends and realizing that in the years ahead some of these people will likely end up getting arrested or spend part of their lives in prison? Most of us could not even begin to comprehend that kind of a world, let alone the negative influence such a reality would have on our daily lives and attention to school.

It should not be surprising then to see what some of the biggest factors are for students that do not complete high school.

1. School Is Irrelevant

Over 60 percent of students who drop out of high school say that school is not relevant to their lives. For them the curriculum has no bearing on how they see their future. Others cite the school or learning environment to be non-supportive. These kids are surrounded by poor achievement, crumbling buildings, crime and out-date text books. It’s completely natural to experience that environment and ask, “If my education is irrelevant to everyone else, why should I see it as relevant to me?”

2. Poverty And Life Challenges

Poverty, pregnancy, and other life challenges are other strong reasons.

Teens that have to get a job to support their family often think that they can complete high school at a later date, but rarely do. Girls who become pregnant also take time off from their education and struggle to go back and complete their education. The lack of support these young women receive often forces them to choose between working to provide basic necessities for their child or going to school. What would you do?

Another significant factor is drug and alcohol abuse, which is one of the top three reasons teenagers drop out of high school. It goes without saying that a person who is using drugs or addicted to drugs and alcohol is not in a state of mind to complete the necessary coursework and graduate high school.

Lastly, physical challenges (home-bound students) and mental illness also play a deciding factor in whether or not students drop out of school. Unfortunately, many kids have physical disabilities or special needs that prevent them from actively participating in a school. While some schools have the resources to mainstream students, others do not. What are these kids going to do?

And while physical disabilities are an obstacle, mental illness and emotional challenges are another significant barrier, because they often go unseen and untreated. Depression, attention challenges, learning disabilities, abuse and more can be missed by teachers, counselors and administrators, as well as parents.

3. Targeted By Bullies / Physical And Psychological Intimidation

The nature of bullying has changed from when many of us went to school. It’s no longer the big school-yard boy stealing lunch money. Now we have cyberbullying, physical and psychological intimidation, and social stigmatization exerted by others.

Bullying can happen anywhere and to anyone, and be caused by anyone. It is difficult to prevent, because targets for bullying can range from socially awkward students, to kids of different races, sexual orientation and other backgrounds. What’s more, it can happen in the classroom, hallways and cafeteria as well as in chat rooms and on social networks. There is no environment or person who is more prone than others. Worst of all, the psychological impact is often very devastating with students seeking to either drop out or transfer from school. For some students, being the victim of bullying forces them to even more extreme alternatives like suicide.

What can we do to turn this around?

The subject of drop-out prevention has been raised by many people and experts over the years. Here are some suggestions to help continue the progress that has been made:

  • Schools and their surrounding communities need to make alternative education and drop-out prevention programs a priority. We all know that most teachers, school administrators and school boards are stretched. But a community that unites around a cause can make a huge difference. For example, mentoring students after school is one way community leaders can have an impact in connecting education to future success. Business leaders need to look beyond the taxes they pay and see how they can support mentoring teenagers both in the classroom and in the community. On the flip side, schools need to be more accommodating of local businesses – reaching out to bring in guest lecturers and adapting to ensure students can participate more in out-of-school mentoring programs.
  • Schools need to implement a more proactive approach to dealing with school absences. If chronic tardiness is an issue, perhaps there is a problem at home? The problem can be minor, such as busy parents or a single parent. I know when I started off as a single parent and my daughter was in elementary school she often did not want to ride the bus. Yet, between her schedule and mine, it was a challenge to get her to school on-time. I called and asked the school if there were any resources available, such as a list of car pool groups. The school did not keep track of that. What a waste! By providing car-pooling resources and connecting parents to support networks, we can help ensure kids get to school more consistently and take some of the stress away from parents.
  • Reaching kids when they are young to help them address behavioral challenges gives them a better chance to make corrections. This means the school needs to make better student observations, and communicate more with the child’s parents.
  • Bilingual programs for parents to help bridge the communication gap. This is more than sending out a weekly newsletter in Spanish. My daughter briefly attended a school in which Hispanic students made up more than one-third of its student body. Often times, there were 3 or more kids in a class that did not speak English with proficiency. The school had trouble communicating with parents, because most of them did not speak English. The solution? We pooled resources and parents to string together a frequent number of parent-school nights just for Spanish-speaking parents and their kids. We needed a translator to assist, but the event helped break down communication barriers and integrated students and their families into the school. Integrated students are less likely to drop out.
  • Greater school choice and domestic exchange programs to allow teenagers to get out of bad school systems. Though not a perfect solution, school systems need to experiment with opening slots to students from other school districts. The METCO program in Massachusettshas done this longer than anywhere else in the country. I also think we should look at national domestic exchange programs, which would work along the same lines of foreign exchange programs. While the schools will need to work to ensure student integration (this was a challenge with the METCO program), the benefits to teenagers who may be at risk of dropping out are significant.
  • Online public education that can either supplement or replace existing public school education. When kids are faced with bullying and other negative influences that restrict their ability and/or desire to learn, the best approach is to get them moved into a safer environment that has fewer distractions. For example, K12 has a substantial curriculum, certified teachers and online support that create a powerful learning experience for kids of all ages. To make the K12 (and other online programs) more effective, we should be looking at creating education resource centers that can support small groups to large groups of students. In some communities, this can be accomplished by state or local governments leasing, or building/property owners donating, unused business offices. This would provide the space necessary and reduce short-term and long-term operating costs and maintain some flexibility. This then would give teens who are at-risk of dropping out an opportunity to advance their education.

How can we prevent teenagers from dropping out of high school?

While we do have a great many societal challenges, education continues to rank as a lower priority for most Americans. In fact, since 2008, 29 states have cut per-pupil spending and shifted the financial burdens to cash-strapped localities. The federal government also has cut spending by 10 percent on programs for low-income families—at a time when our government is collecting record levels of tax revenue and seems to have no problem running budget deficits in the hundreds of billions. While government spending is not necessarily an indicator of bad educational policy (eliminating wasteful spending or ineffective programs is important and something I readily support), reducing the resources for states and localities to reach students with alternatives is not going to help improve educational outcomes and continue to reduce drop-out rates.

As we move forward, companies like K12, Khan Academy and others do provide the infrastructure, courses and in some cases—certified teachers necessary to connect with many of these kids who are at-risk of dropping out.

However, if we want to be serious about education reform and dramatically reducing the number of teenagers who drop out of school, we need to be as open-minded as possible about the tools, solutions and services we provide to our teachers and our young people.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to be as active as possible and produce programs and services that at-risk teens can clearly and easily see and use. The more tangible interest we take in our young people, the better they will respond.

[This post originally appeared in Learning Liftoff on February 4, 2015]

Boston To Make US 2024 Summer Olympic Bid

As a New Englander, Concordian and person who was born in the great city of Boston, I could not be more proud today.

Boston was selected by the US Olympic Committee to be America’s host-city nomination for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The city of Los Angeles was favored. Some even thought of San Francisco as the sexy pick. I am willing to bet that there were many in the DMV that thought Washington, DC had a chance.

It was not to be.

The city of Boston, with its history, infrastructure, scores of colleges and universities, and brilliant, hard-working people who are about as fanatical about sports as any in the world, won out.

Developer John Smith, who has spearheaded the effort to bring the Olympics to Boston said, “A Boston Games can be one of the most innovative, sustainable and exciting in history and will inspire the next generation of leaders here and around the world.”

I believe he is right.

There are opponents to the Olympic games being hosted in Boston. Chris Dempsey and Liam Kerr, co-chairmen of the No Boston Olympics committee, and sports writers like Gordon Edes, will have their say. And if you’ve ever followed Boston or Massachusetts state politics, you know that no major infrastructure project goes as planned, under budget and without casualties to the justice system.

But even though I know of the past, I am still excited to see my home city be selected to represent America’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The Olympics will not make Boston great or elevate it to a world-class city. We already are a world-class city. I think winning the Olympics will be a gift to the athletes and people from all over the world that no other city can replicate the way Boston can deliver.


Make Field Hockey A High School Sport In Loudoun County

On December 2 at 6:30 pm at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) building, the LCPS school board will meet to hear testimony in favor of making field hockey a high school sport.

As a parent, co-founder of the Loudoun County Field Hockey League, assistant coach for the Broad Run Spartans varsity and junior varsity field hockey teams, and a single parent of a high school field hockey player, I encourage all local parents to come out and support making field hockey a recognized sport in the high schools.

Loudoun County is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. We also have a greater proportion of male student athletes to female athletes. As the Loudoun County League and other recreational leagues have demonstrated, there are hundreds of young women who play field hockey in Loudoun County. However, none of these girls have official high school teams. While their classmates sell team gear, promote their games and celebrate victories on-campus, these young women do not get the same opportunity. They deserve to have the same high school sports experience as their male and female classmates.

For more information on attending this meeting, please contact Michael Hackmer at: 703-362-1586.

Remember: Parenting Teenagers Is About Preparing Them For Adult Life

As the single-father of a teenage girl, I am often thinking about education, grades, classroom performance and after-school, weekend and summer activities. Like many parents, I think about these things with the conscious thought about what will help make her a good candidate for a college or university.

However, the truth is – college acceptance is not what I or any of us are really preparing our kids for. We are preparing them for adult life.

In reading a post from Laura Rader (Preparing for College or Living a Life?), I realized that rush parents get into when their kids enter high school and the emphasis from society on college admissions is misplaced. The real question we should ask ourselves everyday is, “What are the best ways I can enrich the future adult lives of my child(ren)?”

There are many ways we can mentor our children and give them chances to practice living full and rich lives. College is one way young people learn, experience new things, meet new people, and expand their world-view. However, there are other ways young people can expand their horizons and tap into their dreams.

Our job as parents is to ask what interests our kids, and help facilitate their exposure to worlds and activities that interest them.

Changing Demographics In Fairfax County To Impact Education

Interesting piece from the Washington Post on the changing demographics in Fairfax County, Virginia, and what it could mean for education and the county’s financial resources. The title of the headline and corresponding picture are more positive then the story’s content.

Here are some of the key excerpts:

Fairfax has experienced a dramatic demographic shift in recent years that is nowhere more obvious than in the county’s kindergarten classrooms.

The white student population is receding and is being replaced with fast-growing numbers of poor students and children of immigrants for whom English is a second language. 

More than one-third of the 13,424 kindergartners in the county this year qualified for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty, and close to 40 percent of the Class of 2026 requires additional English instruction, among the most ever for a Fairfax kindergarten class.

The demographic changes in Fairfax are likely to have long-term implications for the school system: Most of this year’s kindergarten class will spend the next 12 years in county schools.

Schools officials believe that the challenges that come with a less-affluent and less-prepared population will exacerbate the system’s struggles with a widening achievement gap for minorities and ballooning class sizes.

The rising enrollment — the overall student body has surged by more than 22,000 since 2004 — is not sustainable at the current funding level, schools officials said, which could intensify already contentious battles for tax dollars with the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Read full story on Washington Post (In Fairfax County kindergarten classes, school system’s future comes into focus)

What does this mean?

Well, for starters, it means that Fairfax County has a severe problem.

I have personally seen a similar case in Loudoun County on a much smaller scale at Catoctin Elementary – where the student population had a significantly higher number of foreign-born minorities who did not speak English fluently / as a first language, and were on reduced / free lunch programs. It was very similar to the 40% that need to learn additional English because it is not their primary language in Fairfax county’s class of 2026.

At Catoctin, the results were extremely problematic as the school was not certified to state standards in academic performance. Parents of students zoned for Catoctin were allowed by the Loudoun County school system to choose alternative schools if they wanted. There was a significant drain in financial and personnel resources as well.

What the story in the Washington Post does not report is the fact that parents from many other cultures do not get actively involved in their children’s education – especially if their English speaking language skills are poor. It is a huge communication and cultural challenge. Not having parental involvement in a student’s education has been proven to statistically reduce that student’s chance of success. It also makes it significantly more likely that the next generation also will be poor, and require government assistance.

One of the solutions to this challenge is conducting far greater cross-cultural parental outreach than schools have ever done. This requires the school system (or each individual school) to produced accurately translated school notices (daily and weekly) in other languages and host events (with a translator) every month designed specifically to bring parents into the school community. Of course, the challenge with this solution is that most parents in these households work multiple jobs and do not have the time for school meetings. It is, however, a starting point.

Another solution is to target these students with required intensive English learning and skills development all throughout the school year. I understand that this also is another drain on limited education resources. However, what are the alternatives for Fairfax County?

If Fairfax County does not begin to increase its focus on English language learning and skills development for these students, it runs the risk of parents from other students demanding the ability to choose alternative schools to fight against lowering academic performance and quality of education. This will create a block of under-performing schools, and lead to defacto segregation of students based on ethnicity and income.

Is Medium The Future Of Media?

People are looking for Medium invites. And I wonder, why?

There was an interesting post in GIGAOM entitled “Of editors and algorithms: Evan Williams on the future of media and Medium’s role in it” a few days ago.

From reading the article, other interviews and checking Medium out, I get the idea that Medium is trying to be a whole bunch of things simultaneously, everything from a blogger platform to an online magazine – with an algorithmic based system that parses through all the content that gets submitted and finds the most relevant or best items for people to consume. There also are editors who serve as gatekeepers to help bring the highest tier of content to the surface.

So, what really is the point of Medium? Don’t we have all of these things already?

What’s more, people today are far more driven by channels and themes. In television, we have cooking networks, trash tv, HGTV, Catholic TV, and the list goes on. The same exists in print and digital media. Or have we forgotten that YouTube brings things like Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager and hundreds of thousands of content creations from all over the world that we would not have normally seen through mass media?

The only way a new content platform can work successfully is if you give a person the ability to filter that content by a channel. That does not seem to exist yet in Medium.

However, even with channels in place, you still end up trying to become all things to all people. Isn’t that why we have network television? Or the Huffington Post?

Unless the content in Medium can somehow be made contextually relevant to what we are doing, where we are, where we are going or even what our mood is at a given moment in time (either because we share such data or its inferred by an activity we are engaged in) – it wont create enough of a habit to generate sustained readership. It will end up being just more noise in a crowded and noisy space.

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