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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Charlotte-Mecklenburg High School Drop-Out Rate Rises To 34%

Only 66% Of Charlotte-Meck. Students Graduate, Not Good Enough

High school graduation is a time to celebrate success. But consider this: When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools seniors get their diplomas over the next two weeks, hundreds will be missing. If CMS' 66 percent graduation rate of last year stands, a third of the students who started ninth grade in the fall of 2006 will be absent.

Last year, the 34 percent represented 3,301 students who didn't graduate with the class of 2009. The graduation rate is adjusted for students who transfer in or out, so all those students weren't sitting in a class in another state or county. Most were among 1.3 million nationwide last year who dropped out of school.

Their failure comes at a high cost to the rest of us. Those who don't graduate are twice as likely as graduates to be jobless, three times as likely to live in poverty and eight times more likely to wind up in prison. One analysis of the cost of dropouts in the seven-county Charlotte region in 2008 showed a loss of $5 million a year in state and local sales tax revenue from the 7,700 who dropped out.

CMS has set a goal of 90 percent graduating by 2014. Unrealistic? No.

Across the nation, school districts have launched strategies showing success. In Kalamazoo, Mich., the Kalamazoo Promise begun in 2005 energized the community around boosting graduation rates. Kalamazoo Central High, plagued by poverty and students involved in crime, has made such a turnaround that 91 percent of graduates go to college. President Barack Obama will speak June 7 at their graduation to acknowledge their success.

In Cincinnati, community partners - including business leaders, colleges and faith leaders - have banded together to coordinate work to prevent dropouts and improve academic outcomes. They recently released their third "Striving Together" report card.

CMS already is poised to kick off a community-wide strategy. A Graduation Cohort Task Force has been meeting since November and will release an action plan next month. Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark, who is coordinating the effort, said it will outline ways, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, to tackle the issue.

Those ways can be big and small - and they don't have to cost a lot of money. UNC Charlotte and Communities in Schools have programs that bring low-income and struggling middle-schoolers to college campuses for field trips. One national program sends low-income sixth graders six books for summer reading.

Clark pointed to the power of "constant messaging" from people as varied as Sunday School teachers to the Charlotte Bobcats about graduating from high school. "Can you imagine at a Bobcats game hearing the announcer say, 'Class of 2017 stand up. Let's cheer for the class of 2017!'?"

This is not just a poor or minority problem. Though about 45 percent of blacks and Latinos don't graduate, in CMS nearly 20 percent of whites don't either. And that percentage is higher at some schools.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said bluntly last month: "The dropout rate is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable."

He's right. We in Charlotte-Mecklenburg can - and must - do something about it now. This editorial board is sounding the alarm and issuing a challenge. Below, three people involved in education share their views on how to tackle this issue. Send us yours too.

We can become the national leader on high school graduations. But it will take a coordinated effort. Four percentage points a year for the next six years would get us to 90 percent. Let's start now.

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Sources: CBS News, CMS, McClatchy Newspapers, MSNBC, Youtube, Google Maps

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