Preventing Dropout Effort Starts in Kindergarten

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San Francisco Unified School District is putting more money into reducing the city’s 15.8% dropout rate with a $1 million federal grant that comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Part of the fund will go to a program called Plan Ahead, a mandatory ninth-grade class devised by the district along with Gap and Pearson Foundation, which builds college-readiness into the school curriculum. Beginning with the class of 2014, all students are required to complete the class.

"The curriculum in the class would deal with everything from, how are you going to select a college, how are you going to select a career, to what are good habits for you to develop to not only survive in high school but to do well in high school and to do well in college," says Bill Sanderson, SFUSD’s executive director for 21st century learning and accountability.

In conjunction with Plan Ahead, the school will also pilot the new Dropout Prevention Early Warning System, which targets students as early as kindergarten, based on the premise that attendance behavior is borne very early.


"If a student misses more than 10 percent of the school year, they’re definitely at risk for not succeeding in kindergarten," says Maureen Carew, who’s with the district’s San Francisco Promise, part of the school district’s college and career readiness program. "And when you don’t succeed in kindergarten, you don’t have the basis for success in first grade, and it kind of continues on."

Carew is working on regression analysis with the John Gardner Center at Stanford examining the grade school attendance records of student who dropped out of high school. "We want to see if there’s anything that could predict for us that they’re not going to be successful," she says.

Using this research, she hopes, will help them determine those early indicators that can be logged into a data system devised to help counselors understand and access red flags for each student. "They can log into the system, and up will pop a student they should connect with for one reason or another," Carew says.

Preventing dropouts in high school is a hot topic in education right now, Carew says. "Regression analysis is great, but unless we can use this information to act on this current day, it’s not useful."

Other winning districts who received funding – which is specifically targeted at college- and career-readiness, include Alameda, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Elk Grove.