Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Peer Opinion Counts in Dropping Out

Late last week Greenville News published a grounded opinion on dropouts. In response to EdWeek's recent graduation rate ranking of the states, Hayes Mizell opines on the source of the dropout problem: disaffection.

Hayes suggests, "Neither state law, nor the admonitions of their families, nor the prospect of long-term minimum wage employment is powerful enough to overcome these students' decision to withdraw from school." With a national dropout notoriously hovering around 1/3, and South Carolina annual near the bottom of the dubious rankings, it's obvious that change is needed.

I'm reminded of my high school experience, not too far gone to be lost in the haze of memory. I had friends who were more motivated than me and friends who were at risk of dropping out, and friends who did drop out. The idea that students need to feel connected to their schools or at least motivated by some kind of outside fear is spot on. Peers make such an impact in school that it's hard to imagine an effective solution that doesn't use peers.

If I were king of a high school for a day, I would implement peer responsibility as a supreme ethic. Of course this ethic could not be built in a day, it would need to become part of the ethos of the learning experience at the school. Too often students are encouraged to seek volunteer positions in the community (a noble effort) when their own community, the community of learners at the school, could use some serious help as well.

I envision a student run, faculty sponsored, school wide peer support network aimed at motivation, curbing dropouts, and supporting school completion. To my friends that dropped out, I made an effort, not the effort I should have, but I tried to convince them of the folly of dropping out. They might have stayed in school had they known and trusted more people like me. Ideas like separate freshman academies, faculty advisory systems, and small schools all help, but without the peer component dropping out will continue its pandemic course.


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