Before South Carolina can improve its high school graduation rates, it has to keep students from dropping out. Fortunately, for the past four years, schools statewide have been increasingly successful at doing that.
The state Education Department reported last month that South Carolina’s dropout rate declined for the fourth straight year, as hundreds fewer students quit school. While more than 5,200 ninth- through 12th-graders dropped out in 2011-12, that was nearly 670 fewer students than a year earlier and 2,800 fewer than in 2007-08.
Overall, the dropout rate declined in 51 of the state’s 85 school districts. Rates fell across the board among white, black, Hispanic and low-income students.
In York County, dropout rates in three of the four school districts – Rock Hill, York and Clover – also fell. Only Fort Mill schools’ dropout rate, among the lowest in the state, increased slightly. Chester and Lancaster county schools also saw improved rates.
South Carolina has long had a dropout problem. As recently as 2007, by some estimates, it had the highest percentage of high school dropouts in the nation.
But as recent statistics indicate, a statewide focus has paid off. We hope that trend will continue, and there are hopeful signs it will – if the focus on preventing dropouts can be sustained.
Efforts large and small can have a significant effect. On the large side, the state Senate this year considered a bill to boost students’ chances for success by making sure they can read by the fourth grade.
The bill would require special training for teachers and emphasis on reading skills in all studies. It also would hold back third-graders who had not yet mastered those skills. Lawmakers will continue to debate the bill when they return to Columbia in January.
On a smaller scale, the Rock Hill school district launched a summer reading program this year, providing free books to children to help keep reading skills from deteriorating during summer vacation. Studies have shown that students can lose much of what they have learned during the previous school year in summer if they aren’t continually honing those skills at home.
Educators have proposed a variety of approaches to stemming dropouts: establishing alternative learning environments, including online classes, for at-risk students; summer bridge programs to help students make the adjustment from middle to high school; and visitations by school officials to homes of students who have quit attending to convince them to re-enroll.
Persuading students to stay in school and earn a diploma will put them on a path to a better life. It also will be a boon to the state’s economy. Dropouts are far more likely to be unemployed with grim prospects for the future.
In an era where landing a job usually requires at least some post-high school training, failure to graduate is a ticket to failure.