There’s more of smoke than autumn in the air as August rages to a close.
Nevertheless, it’s once again back-to-school time. With students pouring back into local schools this week and next, it’s a good time to think about just how valuable an education is to the next generation, and just how valuable that next generation is to America’s future.
There’s a lot we can all do to support the education of our community’s kids. As parents and teachers, our first priority is deceptively simple — to make sure they’re in school.
One of the clearest predictors of whether a student will graduate from high school is his or her attendance rate.
And that’s critical in Oregon, and in Douglas County, where high school graduation rates are unacceptably low. According to the Oregon Department of Education, about 17 percent of students are chronically absent. And that hurts them. High school seniors who are chronically absent graduate on time just 75 percent of the time, compared with 91 percent for students with good attendance records. Just 46 percent of chronically absent students meet state math standards, compared to 66 percent for those who are attending school regularly. In reading, 62 percent of chronically absent students meet state standards, compared with 74 percent of those who show up for class.
Naturally, parents’ expectations and discipline play a role in ensuring that kids show up for class. But schools aren’t powerless, either. Schools with lower absenteeism have adopted some strategies that work, and that other schools should probably copy. One of these involves making school a positive environment, by, for example, having principals and teachers welcome students in the hallway or getting students into after-school activities. Another successful strategy involves intervening right away when a student’s attendance starts to slide.
As a community, we can also let our kids know that we value them, their education and their future by supporting local schools and libraries through volunteering and, when we’re called to, voting yes when our schools make reasonable requests for additional taxes to ensure that their buildings and programs remain in tact.
Sometimes, in the past, we have all failed our kids a little. Maybe we’ve allowed our kids to skip classes, or ignored truancy when the signs are clear. Maybe we’ve allowed schoolwork to seem like drudgery instead of connecting it to the real world. Maybe we’ve turned a blind eye to bullying or hostile school environments. Sometimes we’ve voted down school bond measures that should have passed, or allowed our libraries to close. We can do better, and we must.
Obtaining a high school education is key to success in work. Kids who don’t graduate will find it very difficult to become productive citizens. They’ll earn $200,000 less than their peers who graduate, over a lifetime. Their unemployment rate is double that of their graduated peers. And those of us who weren’t willing to donate that time and money to them up front will pay in the end — because high school dropouts are more likely to have health problems that drive up our premiums, need welfare that costs us in taxes and even wind up in the jails our taxes fund.
Don’t they, and we, deserve better?