Last week there was a great piece Why Students Who Underperform Drop Out on the PBS Newshour as part of American Graduation week. Ray Suarez interview Stephanie Krauss, Shearwater Education Foundation and founder of a charter high school, Victor Rios, Professor, UC Santa Barbara and Adam Steltzner, NASA Curiosity Mission. It was an interesting group with Krauss and Rios being former dropouts and Steltzner almost not graduating.
I have spoken to a lot of teachers over the last year. And high school teachers say one of the most critical moments is when they sit down with a kid with their transcript and say, you can't finish this year. You can't graduate with your friends. We don't have much of a safety net for those kids. So, how do we keep them engaged?
Rios was totally on point:
I think that what happens is that, sometimes, we give up on kids too soon. Sometimes, we want to teach to the test instead of teaching to transform. And, sometimes, that comes from top-down policy.
Rios himself was encouraged to finish school by someone who took the time to help him with emotional issues and connect him to mentors.
Steltzner emphasizes the power of being known and in relationship:
I know from my own experience through high school you can feel in a big high school like no one is really seeing you, no one really is caring about you, the student. You're occupying a spot in a class. You're either there or you're not. And that's the challenge because when you feel seen by the institution, by the -- by a person, at least one, it's a strong pull. And you start to feel that they're on your side.
Krauss raised the questions of seat-time:
One of the things that we're really concerned about is something we call seat time. In order to get one unit of credit when 24 units are required to graduate, you have to get a passing grade and then be in class for 7,830 minutes. So, if you have a story like mine -- I left school and was what you would call chronically truant for a while. So I had a couple of jobs and I was goofing around with the wrong group of friends. I wasn't acquiring credit. I wasn't at school. And so my education was disrupted. When I was still high school-aged, if I had returned, I would have been too old with too few credits. And this is what we're seeing all over the city of Saint Louis, these young people who are 17 or 18 years old, and they need 24 units of credit. They only have 22 or sometimes they only have three or four.
So the math doesn't work out. So, what we're trying to do is come up with what we call a competency-based approach. So, kids get credit when they show us that they know it, flexible paths for them to acquire credit, to show us proficiency. Do they know what you need to know in order to go on to college, so that you can succeed in work and life?Krauss also speaks about the grit and hard work it takes to finish school:
There are smart kids who leave school because life happened. They get pushed or pulled out. And they have got to go through some of that life, and essentially bottom out, in order to have a real invested interest themselves in returning. We find in terms of stickiness, kids who come and stay and do the hard work of reengaging and moving toward graduation, that they made the decision themselves, many of them young parents, many of them coming off the streets from homelessness or in foster care. Often, they have that supportive adult. But they have the agency and the decision to return. We call that grit. It's kind of that persistent passion of wanting it for themselves that is born out of a little failure and a little hardship and a lot of survival and resilience.In listening to this interview I think we need to add the concept of disrupted education into our policy mix. Or perhaps the ability for students to take a leave of absence if life get too big and a formal process to return when the time is right.