First, some background:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the population of U.S. 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in school and without a high school diploma or General Educational Development, or GED, credential was 16.4 percent in 2009. Among 16- to 24-year-olds who were incarcerated during 2006-07, only 1 in 1,000 had a bachelor’s degree, while 6.3 percent were high school dropouts who didn’t have a GED. (Sum, Khatiwada, McLaughlin & Palma, 2009).
For the class that graduated in 2020, the 4-year Cohort data provide a picture of Richmond’s dropout problem.
To start, here are the division average dropout rates for the cohort, sorted by increasing rate.
The red bars are the peer jurisdictions, from the left Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk. Richmond is the yellow bar.
Richmond was 4.5 times the state average.
Not shown here are the seven divisions reporting no dropouts: Bristol, Colonial Beach, Grayson, Highland, Norton, Richmond County, and Surry. Also absent are the 61 divisions not reported because of the suppression rule (<10 in the group).
In this cohort, 53.9% of the Richmond students were economically disadvantaged (“ED”) (mostly students who qualify for the federal free/reduced price lunch program; in 2019 that threshold for a family of four was $47,638).
The ED students in Richmond did better than the Richmond average.
In contrast, the state average ED dropout rate is higher than the rate for all students.
Richmond’s ED rate was 1.8 times the state average.
Hampton and Newport News (as well as 72 other divisions) were lost to the suppression rule, i.e., fewer than 10 ED students dropped out.
The graph does not show the 11 divisions with no ED dropouts: the 7 listed above plus Amelia, Bland, Brunswick, and Poquoson. The ED winner there is Manassas, 18.1%.
Of course, if the Richmond ED students dropped out at a lower rate than the average, their more affluent peers (“Not ED”) must have dropped out at a higher rate. Indeed, in Richmond the Not ED rate is nearly three times the ED rate:
Richmond’s Not ED rate was 8.7 times the state average.
It would be interesting to know what Richmond is doing about dropouts. For sure, getting rid of their attendance officers was not useful.
The Ed Week piece quoted above tells us what can be done about dropouts:
A 2008 review of the research on preventing dropouts by the U.S. Department of Education also identifies key components of effective programs. Besides data-based, early-warning systems, these strategies include: creating more personalized learning environments for students; providing extra support and academic enrichment for struggling students; assigning adult advocates to students deemed to be at risk of dropping out; and providing rigorous and relevant instruction to engage students in learning.
While they are negotiating the Superintendent’s contract, the School Board would do well to put in a clause requiring a dramatic improvement in these numbers and full and public disclosure of the dropout data (by school and division) for the past four years and going forward.