Saturday, September 22, 2007

Reframing School Dropout as a Public Health Issue

"Good education predicts good health, and disparities in health and in educational achievement are closely linked," writes Nicholas Freudenberg and Jessica Ruglis, in an article posted at

The authors write "If medical researchers were to discover an elixir that could increase life expectancy, reduce the burden of illness, delay the consequences of aging, decrease risky health behavior, and shrink disparities in health, we would celebrate such a remarkable discovery. Robust epidemiological evidence suggests that education is such an elixir. Yet, health professionals rarely identified improving school graduation rates as a major public health objective, nor have they systematically examined their role in achieving this objective."

Last week I wrote about my participation in the Pathways into Health conference. I encouraged participants to continue to network via on-line forums.

In the Freudenberg/Ruglis article one recommendation was to target schools and cities with the most serious dropout problems for intensive intervention, saying "in more than 20 cities at least three-quarters of high school students attend schools where fewer than 60% of students graduate". Graduation rates for 10 largest public school districts are included in the report. In Chicago the 2001 graduation rate for African Americans was 42.1% and for Hispanic youth was 50.8%.

I'd go further and encourage them to use maps to show where poverty and poorly performing schools are concentrated in these cities, to create marketing plans that distribute solutions into each of these neighborhoods.

In their conclusion, Freudenberg/Ruglis wrote, "seldom have health and education professionals been in a better position to work together to achieve common goals. Rarely has a single problem -- high drop out rates -- contributed to so many adverse social, economic, and health conditions."

I read this article with enthusiasm and I hope it stimulates other health care professionals to look outside the box for partners and solutions to the drop out problem.

However, outside of the box means outside of the school building, and the non school hours, not just non-traditional thinking.

In previous blogs I've pointed to the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools as a leader in a movement to make learning supports a part of public education policy.

In my writing, my only criticism with these articles has been that solutions have tended to be primarily school-based. Even when the Freudenberg/Ruglis article talks about connecting young people to caring adults, they tend to emphasize building connections with adults at the school, and not in the non-school hours when kids can connect with adults who hold jobs and work in other careers beyond education and social services. Cabrini Connections is an example of such a program.

In the 10 biggest cities poverty is a root cause of poorly performing schools and the number of kids living in poverty neighborhoods is well over 100,000. I enthustically encourage education and health leaders to connect their strategies.

However, I also feel they need to connect with business and workforce development leaders and look at the non-school hours and non-school locations as times and places when adults can connect with kids in long-term mentoring and tutoring programs.

Such connections can expand the network and skills of adults involved who model a diversity of different aspirations and career opportunities, and can expand the number of people who are personally connected to these kids, and care enough to give time, talent and dollars to build and sustain comprehensive systems of support.

We can, and should, make these connections in Internet forums. However, we can also connect in face to face events. We're hosting a Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference in the South Suburbs on Nov. 15 and 16.

If you have read this far, you're interested. I hope you'll bring your network to the conference.


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Big Cities Connect!

This report includes a list showing the ten largest public school populations in the country,
with NYC being the largest with over 1 million youth, and Chicago being third largest with close to 430,000. Philadelphia is in the top ten with around 200,000 students.

I did a Google search to see what the school population was in other big cities like Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco, etc.

I was surprised to see how much smaller they are. They are not even in the top ten because student populations range from 50,000 to 100,000.

That's huge, but not close to the size of the top five.

I'm pointing this out because the size of the largest cities and the size of the school bureacracy in these cities makes it much more difficult to create the type of changes in policy and actions that would dramatically improve the
learning outcomes and career readiness for most of the kids living in poverty in our cities. While we understand the challenges, people in smaller cities don't, because they don't have the same problems of huge
neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty.

This means that people in the larger cities can either try to solve the problems by working alone, in their own networks, or we can look for ways to connect via the Internet, to link our networks and borrow ideas and resources from each other.

I hope you'll look at the T/MC strategy, which is reflected in the various links off of the Tutor/Mentor Blog and that we can start a dialog between leaders doing strategic thinking in other big cities, and multi state corporations, and myself.

I look foward to hearing from you.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post..I believe in personal implementations. See I taught my daughter to read before kindergarten, took her to pre-school a few times a week to socialize, made sure she could count to 100 and knew all shapes, colors and how to write her name, address, and phone before too. I have always volunteered at her school with many programs ( despite myself suffering from little Stomach acid infection,) helped her and sometimes her friends with homework, and give her a whole pile of encouragement. I knew what she was capable of learning and I felt responsible for doing everything I could to help her take advantage of her abilities. This