The New York Times had some pretty solid advice for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–make schools with the highest dropout rates a priority:
Mr. Duncan has said from the start that he wants the states to transform about 5,000 of the lowest-performing schools, not in a piecemeal fashion but with bold policies that have an impact right away. The argument in favor of a tightly focused effort aimed at these schools is compelling. We now know, for example, that about 12 percent of the nation’s high schools account for half the country’s dropouts generally — and almost three-quarters of minority dropouts. A plan that fixed these schools, raising high school graduation and college-going rates, would pay enormous dividends for the country as a whole.
Mr. Duncan can use his burgeoning discretionary budget to reward states that take the initiative in this area. But Congress could push the reform effort further and faster by granting the education department’s request for two changes in federal education law. The first would be to come up with new federal school improvement money and require the states to focus 40 percent of it on the lowest-performing middle and high schools. The second change would allow the secretary to directly finance charter-school operators that have already produced high-quality schools.
The secretary should focus intently on the dropout factories, the relatively small number of schools that produce so many of the nation’s dropouts. Efforts at especially difficult schools will need to include social service and community outreach programs, modeled on those already in place in the Harlem Children’s Zone in Upper Manhattan.
I certainly think that this could be a great start to improving education and also closing the achievement gap. Too often the poorest-performing schools are the ones whose population are largely Black and Latino.
More importantly, though, is the emphasis on the role of community organizations and social services. I believe it takes more than good schools to provide better opportunities and futures for our youth. We have to create safe spaces for youth as well, and a lot of social services that the last administration neglected would be one way to address that.
I can only hope that education remains a policy priority overall during the Obama administration. With so much talk about health care and green jobs, I am wondering how much attention can and will be given to education this year or even this term. When you think about it, all three of these issues are very much connected to one another. Let’s see if this administration connects the dots successfully.