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Becky Felts Column for Sept. 9

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Dropout Prevention is Everybody’s Business
The number of students dropping out of school warrants everyone’s attention because it touches every area of society. It is heartbreaking to see so many young lives prescribed to a greater likelihood of impoverished living or even worse, prison.
As an elementary teacher, it crushes my heart to know that some of my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young fourth-graders won’t finish high school.
According to research by America’s Promise Alliance, dropouts are:
• Two times more likely than a graduate to be unemployed.
• Three times as likely to live in poverty.
• Eight times as likely to go to prison- In Oklahoma, nearly 70 percent of inmates under 25 are high school dropouts.
Cost of Dropouts
• 14,600-the yearly average number of students in Oklahoma who don’t graduate in four years.
• $3.8 billion-the amount of money the class of 2006 dropouts cost the state in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes.
• $96.4 million- the combined savings and revenue from reducing crime-related costs if we increase both high school and college graduation rates of male students in Oklahoma by only five percent.
(Information provided by Alliance for Excellent Education, June 2007)
While Oklahoma’s statewide graduation rate is four percent above the national graduation rate of 74 percent according to the U.S. Department of Education, only half of the kids in Oklahoma City and Tulsa graduate. Educators must provide personal, individualized attention to our at-risk students. We must build positive and respectful relationships between staff and students as well as support fair discipline policies. It will take parents, educators and community leaders to share the responsibility for making sure all students stay in school.
OEA has adopted a 12-point plan for creating programs that are effective in reducing the dropout rates. The first five points are below. For the remaining points, download http://okea.org/12%20point%20action%20plan.pdf or visit www.okea.org.

1. Mandate high school graduation or equivalency as compulsory for everyone below the age of 21. Just as we established compulsory attendance to the age of 16 or 17 in the beginning of the 20th century, it is appropriate and critical to eradicate the idea of “dropping out” before achieving a diploma. To compete in the 21st century, all of our citizens, at minimum, need a high school education.
2. Establish high school graduation centers for students 19-21 years old to provide specialized instruction and counseling to all students in this older age group who would be more effectively addressed in classes apart from younger students.
3. Make sure students receive individual attention in safe schools, in smaller learning communities within large schools, in small classes (18 or fewer students), and in programs during the summer, weekends, and before and after school that provide tutoring and build on what students learn during the school day.
4. Expand students’ graduation options through 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. For students who are incarcerated, tie their release to high school graduation at the end of their sentences.
5. Increase career education and workforce readiness programs in schools so that students see the connection between school and careers after graduation. To ensure that students have the skills they need for these careers, integrate 21st century skills into the curriculum and provide all students with access to 21st century technology.
- Becky Felts is the Oklahoma Education Association president

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