This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

Dropping in: An innovative program tries to get drop-outs back in school

The government has released its monthly unemployment report, and the jobless rate went down for the sixth time in the last seven months. If you go inside those numbers you’ll see that one of the biggest predictors of unemployment is education.

For those with only a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is about the national average. Compare that to those with a college degree. Their unemployment rate is about half the national average. And if you never completed high school, the numbers are bleak: 50 percent higher than the national average. So the message here is clear: If you can manage to get a college degree, your chances of getting a job, and keeping it, are better.

Easier said than done, though. For a host of reasons — economic, social, personal — America’s high school graduation rate ranks 21st out of 28 of the world’s leading economic powers.

Rick Karr reports from Philadelphia on an innovative program designed to bring drop-outs back to school. Our story is a part of “American Graduate,” a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.


  • Dgaby

    Your programmers just did a good job with the program, focusing on the Philadelphia program for students who have been pushed out of high school.

    However, as an educator who worked in a drop-out prevention program, the degree to which the overall points are valid is questionable in the extreme. The strange interview with the young lady from the Obama Administration was illustrative of the confused thinking involved in these issues.

    Most children who drop out do so because they are not being served by our educational institutions, which are organized to reward advocates for periodic program changes, not educators who provide stable learning environments or institutions that bridge the school-to-work gap successfully.

    The current batch of ‘Boys crying wolf’ about our educational system’s “Failure” are working to sell politicians and voters on perhaps the fourth “Fix” of the educational institutions since WW II, starting with the Post-Sputnik push for new schools. In each of these past efforts “Reformers” advanced their claims and were rewarded with funding, but the result has been “Failed school”.

    The young lady from the Administration spoke of the need for problem-solving skills. She is right, but students are not the only ones who need or should use such skills. They should be used by voters and policy-makers as well.

    I think it is time that we started looking at the salesmen (and women) of these “reforms”. If in five decades all these “Solutions” have not worked, maybe it is because the problem, the reason we are not competitive, is not in the schools but elsewhere.

    I would suggest that in our social, business, and employment organization of Society we are not rewarding the right kinds of behavior, and that young people are dropping out not because they do not want to succeed, but because they see that school will not help them.

    Statistics are often quoted to the effect that college graduates earn more than drop outs. Perhaps, but is that causation or correlation. College graduates often come from families where their parents graduated from college and have capable support networks, so that they would earn more with or without a college education. Further, it is quite evident that many college graduates are not having a positive experience obtaining high-paying employment. Can young people from lower-level socioeconomic backgrounds realistically expect a higher-paying job if they graduate? It is an open question for many, given the experiences of the family members and peers.

    We need to acknowledge that the global economy has evolved greatly since the 1950s and there are many countries in the world competing with both manufactured products and with services. If we really want to be more competitive we are going to have to go back to determine what we are competing for, and if it is social stability and a reasonably high standard of living, we are going to have to find ways to support all students to develop skills that they can afford to use at levels of compensation that are competitive with those of other people in India, China, Japan, and elsewhere that we have to compete against in the marketplace. We will need to make a lot of adjustments to do that successfully. This is what we should be focusing on, not paying another generation of school-reform-yuppies to do rain dances and abuse children in the process.

    The schools have not failed; anyone who tells you they have is trying to sell you something, or has been sold by someone who is. If we adjust the economic structure to be supportable, the students will see their future place in that structure, and schools will become a subordinate issue.

  • cjbcaf

    Need to Know should be REGULARLY available at WHYY TV in Philadelphia.  It’s a great show and I learn a lot from it.

  • 2 seconds ago

    From what I saw this Phil. program seems to be a good one in providing an alternative for those who might find attending regular school too dangerous. There might be a risk of this becoming rewarding bad behavior however. For example a 14 or 15 year old kid might say rather than going to school, I’ll just hang out on the street for a few years and maybe when I’m 17 I’ll decide to get into this program.

    Many years ago I watched a 5 hour program series on PBS called “Challenge to America” where they showed the educational systems of Germany and Japan and where in Germany they still used the guild system where students spent much of their day working at a real job as an apprentice. In contrast they showed an American vocational program at one school where they got a job at McDonalds! I have heard, however, that they have a pretty good vocational program in Indiana.

    I get the sense that many policy makers think that most all of American youth can acquire highly technical skills and that most will become the innovators of the World. I don’t know where they get that idea. I believe that is totally unrealistic. 80 years ago in the job market of this country a high school diploma was rarely an issue. I thought years ago we would restructure the workforce where even menial workers would be making decisions on how they do their job, what the production goals would be, working conditions etc. That hasn’t happened. The problem is we are still carrying on the notion of the English nobility class (or European) and the rest are just peons or serfs or proletariat and have to do what they are told. How much education does it take for those 100,000 Chinese to work in the Foxconn factories to make iPhones? Picking tomatoes in Alabama could be an enjoyable job under much different circumstances. But not at low pay in the hot sun 10 hours a day worker for the master sitting in his farm house. Of course we should strive to retain the high value jobs. The fact is we have thousands of citizens who would be quite comfortable in jobs that we sent overseas that don’t require a lot of education .

  • Maryshap

    On the one hand it’s good to finish something as simple as high school. Usually you can graduate based on attendance. On the other it does smack a little of rewarding bad behavior. “ah, don’t worry about it, deal drugs a while, then come on back.”

  • Lheck108

    You make some interesting points. I am an owner of a small  business who has always been interested in educating youth. I have noticed there seems to be a plethera of educational consultants making big money.
    I am seeing in my suburban community that has experienced an influx of families from lower socio-economic background, the “small learning community” approach to secondary schools has had successes.  Sadly, the support is viewed as too costly and working with unions can be difficult.

  • Lisa Curley

    Feedback: I tried the “transcribe audio” for captions. WAY off!

  • Lisa Curley

    Feedback on the CC beta: I tried the “transcribe audio” option for captioning. WAY off to the point of being completely useless.

  • HS Teacher

    Nice piece.

    Visit a “tough” school and see the gangs of kids who not only don’t want to be there, but are hell-bent on denying others an education with their disruptive behavior. LET these kids drop out so the 85% can learn unmolested. Perhaps a few in this disruptive group, like the ones in the video, figure out that it’s time to finish high school and I’ll bet when they do so they’re a bit more serious about succeeding. Note the STRICT CODE OF CONDUCT imposed on the students in the alternative schools – something that’s unenforceable in public schools despite the drivel in the student handbook. If these students screw up, they know they’re going to be kicked out for good. I’ve seen public high school students late as many as 100 times (of 180) and still pass for the year. What message does that send? There are few consequences because they are deathly afraid of bad numbers (suspensions, etc.), and having the State take over and/or closing the school, so the kids get away with just about anything and they run the place.Either empower the public schools to weed the garden or look at having alternative programs like this for kids who can’t function in a public high school.

  • HS Teacher

    It’s also about liberating the studious and borderline kids from the terrible learning environment caused by the miscreants. People don’t realize that because they watch 2 hour movies (“Freedom Writers” and “Dangerous Minds”) where everything gets fixed by a martyr teacher in two hours or less. Teachers who try to get the most disruptive students out of class so education can take place are disciplined or dismissed by administration for “poor classroom management” when they themselves can’t do any better. I’d take 20 struggling kids who actually try over a class of 5 brilliant hoodlums any day of the week. All those pictures you see of kids with their hands in the air are propaganda.

  • HS Teacher

    Attending college doesn’t guarantee much these days and isn’t what it used to be. That said, not having a HS diploma usually dooms one to a life of menial jobs. 

    Good parenting and a decent home environment cannot be legislated, and The best teacher on the planet cannot undo, in 40 minutes a day, what took years to tear apart. I have students I know get high and drunk every weekend, yet I’m charged with captivating and entertaining them while teaching The Curriculum™. 

    Again, the decision makers (and voters) need to spend some time in schools to see the good and the bad. Compare this to what our top competitors (China, Japan, Finland, etc.) have; I’ll bet the schools look VERY different: from the screaming to the cursing to the sagging to the sleeping in class to the violence, and so on. If respect and work ethic aren’t cultivated at home during the first 12 or so years, high school won’t do it by 16. 

  • Mary Masi

    The question was raised concerning how viewers think we might address dropout rates.
    The solution is simple: TEACH STUDENTS TO READ, WRITE & DO BASIC MATH!!!
    -Teach them in a way that brings high levels of profiency in these skills by the end of grade 6.
    -Teach students the English Language! Include grammar, punctuation, syntax, spelling, conjugation, usage, etitquette and concepts of argument, description and thesis.
    -Teach students to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Teach basic concepts of fractions in a way that brings a mastery of concepts.


  • Mary Masi

    To extend this idea…

    As a former teach of remedial English at the college level, and educator in K-12 schools, I can firmly attest that students can learn ANYTHING if they can READ. They can even teach themselves. However, high schools and colleges cannot teach complex concepts of math, science and philosophy to students who cannot read, write and do basic math.

    America DOES NOT need a few 5th graders who understand calculus, biology and the history of Christopher Columbus at the expense of a society with a near 100% literacy rate.

    Send readers who have never heard of mitochondria to college and the professors can teach them to be biochemists. Send colleges students to can’t read, or write, or multiply, and there will only be frustration, wasted tuition and failure.

    The same is true of high school. Send high school educators students who can write an essay and they will they will graduate. They will graduate doing calculus, organic chemistry and writing books.