Graduation Rates And The Legislature 
February 3, 2014  
with updates in May 2014 
By Alex Saitta 
The on-time graduation rate in our school district has risen 4 percentage points the past 4 years to 76.8%. Our district is doing better than most and I think weíll reach our goal of 80%. However, the overall approach throughout the state will not yield the result thatís needed ó 90% or more.  
This statewide issue is not fully understood. Only 67% of eighth graders in SC are at/ above grade level in mathematics and 70% are at/above grade level in English. It is not surprising so many students then fail to amass the required 24 high school credits to graduate on time, if at all.  
I donít think the problem is an academic one, though. For years now, Iíve believed the low graduation rate has its roots in the breakdown of the family, and the social, psychological and behavioral issues that spawn from that.   
An elementary student not reading at grade level, likely thatís due to his parent(s) not reading with him at home. That has to do with relationship at home ó a social issue. Not an academic one at the school.  
I recently spoke with students who had dropped out and later enrolled in a GED program. I asked, why did you drop out? Most didnít see the value in an education or see the merit in following rules like being on time or behaving in class. The reason they dropped out was rooted in their thoughts and perceptions -- a psychological obstacle. Not an academic issue. 
By and large, leaders in the public school system, beit at the district level or in Columbia, are life long educators. Most have 4 year degrees, Masters degrees and Ph. Dís in education. Their training is in education. Their continuing education is in education. Their experience has all been in education ó 25 to 30 years. They see all problems through an academic prism.  
Like the surgeon who always wants to operate, the prescriptions from the Department of Education to the local districts are most always academic -- we need better technology in the classroom, facilities that are more conducive to learning, a more rigorous curriculum, another and better way to evaluate teachers. The state is handing down yet another teacher evaluation system soon. (None of that is the reason so many students are not graduating.)  
Detailing part of the problem will drive home my point. I recently attended a meeting where the speakers were Sheriff Rick Clark and Solicitor Walt Wilkins. I asked, when you examine the cases you prosecute and prisoners you put in jail, what type of crimes do you see the most?  
They responded ď80% percentĒ are related to Meth, either making it, selling it, stealing to get the money for it, fighting over it, or individuals just plain high on it and breaking the law.  
Those 80% likely have children who are being raised in those households or by relatives or being bumped in and out of DSS. None of that is optimal for a childís development. When little Janie comes into school crying her eyes out because her mother is back on Meth, putting a better Promethean Board in Janieís classroom wonít help her. Itís like trying to turn a Phillips head screw with a Crescent Wrench. Not a lot of progress will be made.    
For a variety of reasons, from divorce to drug abuse too many developing children are being neglected at home, and some parents are now more consumed with their next text message they overlook their childrenís homework or teaching them the valuable lessons of life. All this is contributing to the breakdown of the family, and adversely affecting students. This is revealing itself in our schools and in the low graduation rates in our county, state and nation.  
The failure of our leadership to fully understand the problem and effectively address it has its root in the way the system communicates, top-down. Teachers see it isn't an academic problem because it is smacking them in the face each day -- students who have emotional issues, behavioral problems and others who just don't see the value in trying hard. The leaders of the system, who haven't been in the classroom for 15 years, don't realize how much things have changed/ declined since they were teaching, and hence don't see the clinical need. If the system naturally communicated down-up as it does top-down, I think the problem would have been effectively addressed by now.   
To see significant statewide improvement, the legislature needs to get involved. 
It must incentivize the public school system in some way, so the leaders of school districts around the state will put down their academic prisms, and come up with clinical solutions to help these students. This is happening slowly, but the progress must shifted into higher gear and the legislature can do that.  
If the legislature is going to push forward with school choice and charter schools, it should narrow their focus to the students who are under-performing.  Maybe pass a bill that says school choice only for students who score below grade level on the PASS. Charter schools want some more money. Give them more money for the students that are more than a grade behind. That will create graduation specialty schools that are fleet of foot with that clinical/ academic approach that is missing from our traditional public schools.  
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