Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Consequences of Dropping Out of School in Illinois

On Monday I attended a Statewide Summit titled Building a System to Re-Enroll Students who Dropped out of School. It was hosted by the Alternative Schools Network.

The research on high school dropout rates is being compiled by The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Here's an excerpt from the summary document:

Dropping out of high school without obtaining a regular high school diploma has a number of adverse labor market consequences for adults in Illinois, especially for men whose employment rates and real annual earnings have been declining since the late 1970s. On every core measure of labor market success, adults (18-64 years old) in Illinois without high school diplomas are far worse off than their better educated peers. Employment rates of adults (men and women combined) in Illinois during calendar year 2005 were only 55% for high school dropouts versus 69% for high school graduates and 82% for those with a Bachelor’s degree. As a consequence of their lower employment rates and their lower wages when employed, adult high school dropouts in Illinois had mean annual earnings of only $15,650 in 2005 versus nearly $23,000 for high school graduates and over $50,000 for bachelor degree holders.

I encourage you to visit the site and read the full report.

I'm a big fan of the Alternative Schools Network. Jack Wuest has been building this organization for more than 30 years. He can fill a room with political leaders better than most.

I wish I could find a way to link his efforts more strategically with mine so that while we're addressing the needs of nearly 250,000 drop outs in Illinois between the ages of 16 and 24, we can also be developing prevention and youth mentoring strategies that reach young people as early as elementary school so we prevent them from becoming drop outs and do more to help the develop their full potential.

As I sit through meetings like this, I keep a running journal, making comments to myself, and looking for linkages to the speakers that I'm listening to. I thought I'd share with you some of my notes from Monday:

While I was listening to the first panel, with Arne Duncan, Wayne Watson, Mary Ellen Caron, Jesse Ruiz, Geoff Obrzut and Therese McMahon, I looked around and saw more than 200 people. I wrote "How do they connect with each other, or the speakers, during, or after this meeting?"

One of my frustrations for the past couple of years is that while some people can get a crowd in a room, they don't create ways for people of the crowd to connect well with each other, or with the speakers. My goal is that on-line forums would support face-to-face events, thus encouraging more interaction, and more application of the ideas from a conference in real world problem solving.

As I keep working to develop the mapping capacity of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, one goal is to create a Google map showing the participants of specific events.

After the first panel I went to a workshop hosted by Jeff May, a member of the Illinois Task Force on Re-Enrolling Students who Dropped out of School. Jeff listed some goals of the task force:

1) learn who is already working with these youth; what works, etc.
2) don't reinvent the wheel
3) many agencies provide funding, but work in silos. Need more integration
4) the goal of the task force is to find as much as $131 million in funding

During the Q&A with Jeff, the question of Truancy vs Drop Out came up. The task force is focused on those who have already dropped out, not those who might. Jeff gave a insightful definition. A Truant is a "part time drop out" while a Drop out is a "full time truant".

As I listened to the focus on drop outs, and the goal of finding new money, my thought was "What is the strategy to build political support?" My goal of connecting tutor/mentor, youth development, prevention, workforce development and diversity into one goal of helping every youth reach a job is to broaden the base of people who have a self interest or personal connection to the cause.

Senate President Emil Jones was the keynote speaker. He received an award from Alternative Schools Network and lavish praise from Deputy Governor Louanner Peters, who introduced him.

As he talked about the need for a "system to re-enroll drop outs" I wrote, "shouldn't we be talking about a "system to assure that all students, including dropouts, are starting jobs and careers by their mid-20s?" Such a system goes way beyond the thinking of No Child Left Behind.

Jones talked about his youth experiences and the discipline teachers were able to administer, saying "They weren't trying to hurt me; they were trying to get my attention."

That's a lot more difficult in today's environment.

Following Senate President Jones, was a panel of state representatives and state senators. As Kim Lightfoot, who represents the 4th district, spoke I wrote this note "Is the question one of how to reduce drop outs, or re-enroll dropouts" or "is it one of "how to prepare more young people for 21st century careers?"

I reflected on my role at this point in the forum saying "my role is a catalyst. I have limited time to meet people in one-on-one settings. By putting my ideas on the Internet, like I'm doing now, I hope to stimulate the involvement of thousands of people.

I visited the Alternative Schools Network web site this morning before writing this. It has great information on the demographics of drop outs and a database of organizations working with youth who have dropped out.

I don't know how much traffic the site gets, but I hope by writing about the forum and posting the web site, more people will find the site, the research data, and locations where they can get involved as leaders, donors, volunteers, etc.

My goal of networking with ASN and others is that they can draw attention to my sites and tutor/mentor programs, just by putting links on their site, or pointing to this sector when they host their events.

Unless we expand the number of people visiting these sites, reading the research, then finding ways to act, not just as a voter, but by voting with their feet, their dollars, and their time, we won't dramatically change the system of supports for kids who are at risk of being drop outs, or who have already become drop outs.


getoffourbuts said...

I applaud the groups efforts. I am working with a 13 year old foster kid in the CASA program in Los Angeles County. He has no motivation to stay in school. I would be interested in any ideas to get him more focused on the rest of his life.
Bruce Juell

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

The concept of one-on-one is that the mentor can try to find something that aligns with an interest the youth might have. That's easier said than done.

I encourage the growth of site based programs, where the program can offer more activities for the youth, and introduce him to more mentors, than is possible in community based mentoring.

On the T/MC web site the links library points to many other programs. The goal is to expand the range of ideas a mentor, or a mentor program, can draw upon to find something that can reach and motivate a youth.

This is still not enough. There's too much information and too little time for volunteers, or program staff, to search for answers.

This is why I'm trying to find funds to expand staff at program site, keep people longer, and help facilitate interaction among volunteers. If you're able to share your ideas and ask questions of a wider network of volunteers who may be working with the same problems as you are, you may find help for your own situation.

No easy answers.

The most important advise I'd give is "stick with it". It can take years to influence the habits of a youth. As he gets older, your role in helping open doors to jobs and other opportunties may be what is really important.

Some of us don't mature, or find our way, until later in life. We've just been fortunate that the families and community around us have helped provide momentum, and provide opportunities.