Submitted by Deryl McCarty.
Now more than ever, it is imperative that we address the education and dropout crisis facing both our nation and Washington state resulting from COVID 19.
The unfortunate consequence of educating our children during the pandemic is that the unavoidable chaos will cause more children to fall through the cracks. Many will struggle during the transition to online learning, they will fall farther behind, and they will not graduate from high school – the result: lifelong struggles.
We face monumental challenges in education. School districts, parents, grandparents, and students are doing the best they can. We must avail them of every resource we can as we try to adapt to the increased challenges in educating our children.
Before COVID-19, the national adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for public high school students was 85 percent (2017-2018 school year.) Those 15 percent who drop out of high school will be at a severe disadvantage as they try to find jobs.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, under the current economic conditions in the U.S., living-wage jobs that are willing to accept less than a high school diploma have been almost eliminated. This is especially concerning for minorities and people of color. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that the percentage of public high school ninth-graders who graduate with a regular diploma within four years of starting the ninth grade for White students is 89 percent. By contrast, the graduation rates are 79 percent for Black students, 81 percent for Hispanic students, and 74 percent for American Indian and Alaska Native students.
Superintendents Denise Juneau of Seattle, Carla Santorno of Tacoma, Ron Banner of Clover Park, and John Polm of Puyallup have always made fighting dropouts a priority, and I am sure they will increase their efforts, especially during the pandemic.
There are some exciting tools available for public schools that would augment and bolster their existing programs. For example, Graduation Alliance offers a program specifically targeting dropout recovery that re-engages students by partnering with school district leaders. They have found that the best way to reclaim students is by giving individuals flexibility and support while also holding them accountable with 24/7, on-demand tutoring. Each program is unique and accommodates students from every background who want to earn their high school diploma. Best of all, this program is no cost to students and families and is “pay-for-performance,” meaning: no graduation, no pay.
Ensuring a quality education for everyone, especially our most vulnerable students, must remain a top priority for our public schools even as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic and revitalize our local economy. Individuals who earn less than a high school diploma have the highest unemployment rate, and that number will only increase if we do not act now to solve this crisis. With the help of public school superintendents and school boards, our school districts can access the necessary resources to allow every student to graduate and get a good starting job.