We've Got A Crisis Here: Teachers Weigh in on High School Dropouts

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This article is more than 9 years old.

Let's begin with some numbers:

  • Every year, roughly 1.3 million students in the U.S. drop out of high school. That's 7,000 students each day.
  • More than 20 percent of California high school students drop out of school before graduation*
  • More than one third of California's African American public high school students didn't graduate*
  • Roughly 27 percent of California's Hispanic students don't graduate from high school*
  • In the City of Oakland, almost 40 percent of students don't graduate*
  • California ranked 46th in the nation in K-12 per pupil spending (almost $3,000/student below the national average).**
  • In contrast, California spends an average of $47,000 per year per inmate***
  • Nationwide, California ranks dead last in the number of K-12 students per teacher**

*Based on 2009 California Department of Education data
**Based on 2010-11 data compiled by the California Budget Project
***Based on 2008-9 data from the Legislative Analyst's Office

Not the most uplifting way to start a blog post, huh? It's all true, though. And few people are more aware of it than the teachers and students on the front lines.

On March 13, teachers, education advocates, and a number of students filled the theater at Laney College in Oakland to address the problem, ask important questions, and share thoughts on how best to tackle this ongoing crisis in American education. The forum was part of American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen, an initiative spearheaded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), in partnership with America's Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Local public radio and television stations (including KQED) in 20 impacted "hub markets" where the high school dropout crisis is most acute, are convening teacher town hall events to raise awareness of, and bring attention to, the issue.

Moderated by Snap Judgement host Glynn Washington,  Tuesday's event centered around a panel of seasoned Oakland educators who spoke passionately about the extent of the crisis from their unique perspectives.  While specific opinions and suggested courses of action varied widely, all participants were united in their insistence that a whole generation of young people are being left behind, and that urgent change is desperately needed.

Below are some of the overarching themes that shaped the discussion:

  • Strong student/teacher relationships are crucial
  • Students need to know that teachers care; that they know them; that they listen to them
  • Teachers must create support systems for their most vulnerable students, and provide lasting mentorship
  • Teachers need to encourage creativity/critical thinking among their students
  • It’s the role of educators to spark students’ minds, help create change
  • Much of today's conventional educational approaches focus too much on basic skills, and not nearly enough on creative skills and real-world job skills
  • Teachers are critical to student success, but there is often too much responsibility placed on them. The community support factor can't be ignored.
  • There is a serious lack of stability in the teaching force, and this directly impacts the stability of students; teacher dropouts encourage student dropouts
  • Teachers have questionable access to basic resources, which affects the length of their teaching commitment
  • There is a lack of consistency in the educational system; a constant flux in procedures, goals and approaches makes it harder on everyone
  • For many students entering high school, success is predetermined (there is still an unofficial form of tracking at play)
  • In many cases, students need to be taught “how” to be in school and "how" to learn; it shouldn't simply be assumed that this is inherent knowledge
  • There is a lack of relevance/meaning  in most standardized curriculum; this results in a lack of student engagement and retention
  • Too often ignored in the education debate are the crucial impact of poverty, nutritional health, and basic resources on educational achievement