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Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Eliminating School ‘Dropout Factories’

By John L. Horton

The media is reporting that “No Child Left Behind,” is being sharply scaled back. The House voted on December 2 to significantly reduce the federal role in education and delegate the responsibility for improving and sanctioning public schools to the individual states. The legislation was approved 359-64 by the House. Furthermore, the measure would eliminate federal efforts to implement such academic standards as Common Core. However, states will still be required to intervene and regulate their lowest performing and failing schools, especially those known as “dropout factories” with ongoing academic achievement differences.

Nationally, the dropout rate for African-American females is roughly 30 percent, but for African-American males it is approximately 53 percent.

According to Education Week and the Schott Foundation, more than half of the over 1.2 million students who fail to graduate from high school (normal four years – 9-12 grades) are African-American and Latino. Nationally, Black students have a 69 percent graduation rate and Hispanic students have a 73 percent rate, while White students have a 86 percent graduation rate, and Asian students have a 88 percent graduation rate.

All of this brings me to the point of writing this piece. Awhile back, it was reported that NPS drop-out rate of 13 percent placed it among the bottom 25 of the 131 Virginia districts reporting data. At that time, all five of Norfolk’s public high schools had higher drop-out rates than the state average of 8.7.

To qualify for this distinction, a school must fail to graduate its students within the normal four year cycle (9-12 grades). In other words, a ninth grader should graduate, timely, four years later.

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Presently, NPS are still among the worst-performing in the Commonwealth. For example, only 17 of 44 schools are fully accredited, and four have been denied accreditation.

Personally and professionally, I have some experience, knowledge and background on this subject. From November 1992 to August 1996, I served as coordinator of Norfolk’s Truancy Action Program (TAP). The primary objectives of TAP were: (1) attendance of 90% or better; (2) grades of “C” or better; and (3) parental support and involvement. Even with a built-in monetary incentive ($30-$80), TAP was only marginally successful.

Over the years, my wife and I have been active PTA members and ardent supporters of Norfolk Public Schools. Moreover, my two sons graduated from Lake Taylor High School. John graduated with honors in 1996. Ellery graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 2000.

For the past 25 years, I have found Black males to be the ones most adversely affected in NPS. Generally speaking, Black males are more likely to drop out (academically and behaviorally) and/or graduate with a low/minimal grade point average, usually an average of “C” or below. And, yet NPS has received the BROAD Merit Award and various other accolades.

As a result of this “lesser education,” Black males are more likely to be unemployed, under-employed, involved in the criminal justice system, have substance abuse problems and mental health issues, and the like.

Something is not right here. Or, is it just I? Anyhow, “we” need to begin to do whatever it takes to make things better for all of NPS’ students.

From my experience and perspective, I have found most teachers to be competent and caring. Over the years, I have seen teachers “do their share” and give students their “roots of responsibility and wings of wonderment.” I sincerely believe that most teachers do the best they can with what they have to work with.

Being an “old timer” of 75 years, I firmly believe that self-help begins at home. And, I strongly believe that the family is the “best departments of health, education, welfare, and salvation.” As such, parental involvement needs to begin at birth. Parents need to motivate and nurture their children from infancy. This needs to be an ongoing and unrelenting task. All along, children need to be loved, supported, encouraged, and supervised.

Most child development researchers and early education experts agree that the first 5-7 years are the most important ones in determining a child’s eventual success in school and life. Furthermore, educational data and child development research show that all children – including minority and those economically disadvantaged – perform competitively with other students when they come from households where education is valued and reinforced on a consistent and positive basis.

Being a supportive parent and devoted caregiver are very challenging jobs. We are responsible for so much: our children getting enough sleep, eating right, dressing appropriately, doing homework, getting to school on time, staying out of trouble, having a positive attitude, etc. In sum, parents (should) have the ultimate responsibility for the preparedness and successfulness of their children in school and life. For, no one can take the place of “parents,” when it comes to these duties and responsibilities.

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Just as importantly, “we” can work on the inherent basics and necessary prerequisites for empowering and attaining an adequate education for our children: (1) married mothers and fathers; (2) involved and supportive (two) parent households; (3) supportive extended families, especially from the patriarchal side; (4) our students attending school, behaving, and doing the required work; and (5) doing everything humanly possible for ourselves,regardless of what others (government, churches, agencies, organizations, etc.) do for us.

All parents, especially minorities and those economically disadvantaged, need to become knowledgeable as to how the “education process” really works.

Parents need to involve themselves in every aspect of their children’s education. They need to have “high expectations” and convince their children “they can.” Our children need to learn how to “work harder and smarter.”

They must come to believe and epitomize “if it is to be, it is up to me.” Our children need to be filled with optimism, for pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Well, this about covers what I wanted to say about NPS as “dropout factories” and what “we” can do about improving things for all of “our” students. As the old adage goes, “It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.” At this point and juncture, “we” need to begin lighting the candles for “our” children.

John L. Horton is a retiree Marine and resident of Norfolk. He is a frequent contributor to this paper.

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