Dropouts: Starting in Middle School

There are one million children in Harris County and half of them are at or near the federal poverty level. Thousands of them will drop out of high school. As Laurie Johnson reports — child advocacy groups want educators to start drop out prevention programs in middle school and even elementary school.
Pin Oak Middle School has more than 1,000 kids in it's student body. It's an application-only middle school in the Houston Independent School District. And this week it serves as host for the Children at Risk Middle School Summit. Dr. Bob Sanborn is president and CEO of Children at Risk.

"We decided this year to really focus on the middle school, because what we know, and all the research shows us, that it's in middle school that we're preparing our kids to succeed or to fail. In HISD we have a 50.1 percent dropout rate. So we know that we need to be doing a better job in middle school getting those kids ready for high school, so that they indeed can succeed and reach the American dream and be productive members of our society."

Sanborn says statistics show that 40 percent of urban 9th graders repeat the 9th grade. Of those who repeat, only 10-15 percent go on to graduate.

Dr. Frances Deviney is with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She says drop out students earn, on average, $7,000 less than high school graduates and $29,000 less than college graduates.

"It's not only a cost to the individual in terms of lost income. It's a cost to the state for taxes, but there's also a huge societal cost because dropouts are more likely to go to jail, they are more likely to need government assistance. And so really if we pay a little bit up front, we're going to get a much bigger payoff in the back end."

About 130,000 kids drop out of high school a year, according to the Texas Education Agency. Bob Sanborn says some preventive steps during the middle school years could help kids make it through high school.

"I think one of the things that we're definitely seeing is that there's a beginning movement to say our middle schools, our schools need to be smaller learning communities. We're at Pin Oak Middle School today, where they've divided a school into three houses. It's a good example of what really can happen within a middle school where you create those smaller learning communities so that you can enable students to succeed, be engaged with faculty and get ready for high school at a good level."

Sanborn says disengagement from middle school is one of the prominent characteristics of a student who will eventually become a dropout. And he hopes the Middle School Summit will help teachers, administrators and lawmakers find practical ways to keep middle schoolers interested in learning.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...