Families & Communities

School Holding Power

Pláticas en Acción
School Holding Power

In Texas schools, two out of five students are lost; one out of two Hispanic students and one out of three African American students are missing. They never receive their high school diploma. Even worse, no one is looking for them, some will not even admit they are gone. Schools must take responsibility for ensuring safe passage for our children – they must hold on to them through graduation.

What is the issue?
Since 1986, Texas has lost 1.7 million students. This is the equivalent of losing Dallas and Austin over the course of a decade and an half. Imagine, this tragic loss of unrealized potential.

This has cost Texas citizens almost half a trillion dollars in foregone income, tax revenues, increased welfare, job training, unemployment and criminal justice costs. Dropouts do not disappear or evaporate into thin air. They struggle with their lives, trying to earn a living without a high school diploma. And we pay for that lost potential in our taxes, our social services, and the training that businesses must pay for (and pass on to consumers).

If each child is important and valuable, then each one must be counted. What happens right now is that schools and our state education agency count students who are enrolled in Texas public schools and then use “leaver codes” to count those they did not hold on to.

Over the years, since we began counting, the agency has created more and more leaver codes – from seven to 46 – which has lowered the number of students counted as lost from the system. In other words, instead of counting students who have dropped out of school as “dropouts,” their disappearance is explained away in 46 different categories and called “leavers.”

This includes students who say they “intend to enroll in another school.” But no one checks to see if they did. It also includes students who are working for a General Educational Development (GED) credential. The GED was originally created for World War II veterans who interrupted their schooling to go to war. The GED is not the same as a high school diploma.

All of these “leaver codes” drastically lower the dropout count, but most only serve to mask the true picture. And the true picture shows a terrible loss of human, social, and economic capital.

What needs to be done?
Texas has the advantage of having an excellent system of tracking its students. We have the means to track every individual student, what is missing is the will. Once schools and communities account for every student enrolled and every student lost, then we can begin to find out what happened in those schools that lost them along the way. We can change those systems to match the characteristics of all students and embrace the strengths and contributions that students and their families bring.

It also means making sure that schools have the tools they need to support their teachers and students and to provide effective training and resources. Families as true partners with their schools can make a huge difference in the lives of their children. What will make a difference is changing schools so that everyone believes that holding students from the beginning of their journey all the way to high school graduation is expected and demanded. Nothing less will be acceptable for the children of our state.

The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is a vanguard leadership development and research team working with people to create self-renewing schools that value and empower all children, families and communities. IDRA is an independent, private non-profit organization directed by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. IDRA, 5835 Callaghan Road, Suite 350, San Antonio, Texas 78228-1190; 210-444-1710; contact@idra.org; www.idra.org. © 2003 by IDRA. • Parent Information Resource Center at IDRA •