Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Last Dropout

The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic is a book by Bill Milliken, Founder of Communities in Schools. This is a book I ran across while browsing in the bookstore recently. I have always been drawn to students who struggle in school for whatever reason.  I used to think the students who struggled were those who came from a specific family dynamic or were children with special needs or were just unmotivated to try in school. What I have found over the last twenty years in education is that all students struggle in school for any number of reasons at various times during their education.  I discovered along my own educational journey that very intelligent and capable people struggled in school. According to various Internet websites:
*Thomas Edison got a late start in his schooling following an illness, and, as a result, his mind often wandered, prompting one of his teachers to call him "addled." He dropped out after only three months of formal education.
*Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth child and youngest son in a family of 20. He spent two years at the Boston Latin School before dropping out at age ten and going to work for his father, and then his brother, as a printer.
*Two months before his high school graduation, history's first recorded billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., dropped out to take business courses at Folsom Mercantile College.
*Charles Dickens, author of numerous classics including Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol, attended elementary school until his life took a twist of its own when his father was imprisoned for debt. At age 12, he left school and began working ten-hour days in a boot-blacking factory.
*The late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, attended West Heath Girls' School where she was regarded as an academically below-average student, having failed all of her O-level examinations (exams given to 16-year-old students in the UK to determine their education level). At age 16, she left West Heath and briefly attended a finishing school in Switzerland before dropping out from there as well.
While this list is not exhaustive, it does present a picture of what a possible drop out looks like. Or does it? A primary lesson I learned from reading this book (so far as I am not done yet) is that the drop out epidemic is a national problem and it is not, again not, a youth problem; it is an adult problem.  Durant High School’s list of students who don’t make it every year is sad but not much different than Wilton, Tipton, West Branch, or Davenport. This epidemic has been the focus on television shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil. We have tuned in to Iowa Public Television to watch documentaries on this epidemic. National magazines, such as Time, have done cover stories on this crisis.  The focus of most debates seems to be on numbers: is there some moral advantage to losing 1 out of 5 students as opposed to 1 out of 3. The lower our numbers are the greater sensation of success we seem to feel.  Bill Gates said, “When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education, and we look at the damaging impact that has on their lives, we came to a painful conclusion: America’s high schools are obsolete” (The Last Dropout: 2007, introduction). The question that permeates the book is “can we stop the drop out epidemic?”  The answer is that we can, but not until we realize that adults have to stop the problem. The answers come through focusing on kids, not programs or curriculum to change kids, recognizing the role community plays in educational success, and coming to grips that real change will have to come by holding each other accountable and being transparent in our policies and procedures established by local and state school boards, state departments of education and state and national legislators. The key is, though, that real change begins at home, in our own local communities. Focusing on relationships with students is the place to start. Making connections to those students we serve is a must. There is no quick fix. But it can be done. Our graduation rates can be 100%, legitimately, without cutting corners or manipulating grading practices, or dumbing down expectations. This book is a must read for everyone, especially those in education. After all, as Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over the same way and expecting different results.” The face of education must change. Let it begin with me recommending this book.

Source: Milliken, Bill. The Last Dropout: Stop the Epidemic! Hay House Incorporated Publishing. 2007.

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