In his book, Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out and What Can Be Done About It, (Harvard University Press, 2011), Russell W. Rumberger, vice provost at the University of California, chronicles how the issue of dropout prevention has been dealt with in the last 40-plus years. At a recent forum held on Capitol Hill last month, Rumberger highlighted points from the book on what can be done to fix the problem. The work Communities In Schools does to surround students with the resources they need to graduate is in direct alignment with several of his suggestions.
On the subject of reform efforts, Rumberger doesn’t sugar coat his impressions. He cites a lack of attention to cost, sustainability and scalability as one limitation to the large-scale programs that exist today. What sets Communities In Schools apart from other organizations is our model of integrated student services – the ability to provide a comprehensive range of community services. Structured to meet each community’s unique needs, it is adaptable to urban, rural and suburban communities and across states, school settings and grade levels. The annual cost per student is extremely low: less than $200 a year. In addition, Communities In Schools sets out to stay in communities as long as is needed. Dan Fuller, vice president of Legislative Relations at Communities In Schools, and a panelist at the forum, succinctly expressed the Communities In Schools mission when he stated going into a school for three or five years is simply not good enough.
One of the reform strategies Rumberger suggests is strengthening families and communities. Many students face challenges outside the classroom that can distract them from learning. By addressing these basic human and social needs, students can focus on learning. Working alongside policy makers, school staff, parents and business partners, Communities In Schools is actively engaged in making sure that these types of resources are extended to as many K-12 students as possible.
Take, for instance, the example of a site coordinator who started a clothes closet when she saw that kids were coming to school without coats. Or there’s the many that distribute food backpacks to students to ensure that they will have healthy meals during the weekend. It is by building these relationships that Communities In Schools can help strengthen the larger community.
Rumberger’s book stresses the urgency of solving the dropout problem in our country, saying it has reached a crisis level. The U.S. ranks 21st among industrialized nations in graduation rates. Dropping out has serious consequences. Compared with high school graduates, dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, suffer from poor health, be incarcerated or be dependent on social services. And then there is the negative effect this ultimately has on our economy and our role in the global economy.
Solving our country’s dropout crisis will require a require lot of work, community support and effective programs. A five-year, comprehensive evaluation conducted by ICF International revealed that Communities In Schools is the only organization proven to both reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates. We are serving the young people most in need and helping the most at-risk students graduate.
When kids graduate from high school on time and prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce, we, as a nation, all succeed. Following the Communities In Schools model has proven to be an effective way to address our country’s dropout crisis.