By GAVIN OFF
Scripps Howard News Service
April 01, 2008
"All you're doing is growing the prison population," said Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state and Alliance founder. "It's a farm system for the jail system."
The Alliance unveiled a plan Tuesday to hold 100 dropout prevention summits nationwide to curb what Powell called "a national catastrophe."
According to a report prepared by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, a student drops out of high school roughly every 26 seconds.
Powell said 30 percent of all high school students fail to graduate, while 50 percent of minorities do not earn a diploma.
"You'll be frightened by the numbers you see," Powell said. "The trend is real, and it's a trend that has to be reversed."
Kareema Conda-Barr knows the trend all too well. She dropped out of her Chicago-area high school her senior year in 1996 in part because of a poor work ethic and the perceived disconnect between high school curriculum and everyday life.
She now works with YouthBuild USA, a Somerville, Mass.-based organization that helps low-income students earn their GED. Conda-Barr is expecting to receive her associate's degree in May.
"These are students who have given up on themselves, and consequently the school system has given up on them," she said.
The dropout trend is worst in urban areas, where researchers have found that students are sometimes up to two times less likely to graduate than in suburban areas.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said he's found many high school dropouts read at a fourth-grade level.
Education officials said they hoped the summits could provide the answer. The plan is to gather parents, educators, community leaders and government officials in hopes of developing a game plan to fight the dropout crisis. The Alliance will coordinate one summit in each state and in the country's 50 largest cities by 2010.
Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, said it would take everyone to prevent children from continuing to drop out.
"It's important to get the community involved because the community bears the cost, while the school system is just getting rid of a problematic kid," Balfanz said.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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