The New York Times presented a thoughtful opinion piece by Robert Balfanz, research professor at John Hopkins University, this month entitled “Stop Holding Us Back”. The overall message of the piece is the driving need to focus on the one-third of our nation’s African-American and Latino youth, primarily from our poorest neighborhoods, who are not graduating from high school. These young people make up a large part of the 20% of students who drop out of high school each year. It is striking that a majority of these students are concentrated in a small set of large high schools in urban areas. As one would expect, these are not the schools in affluent communities that attract top teachers and have access to lots of resources.
There are many education reform initiatives happening across the nation, all trying to provide every student with a high-quality education; yet it is still a struggle to get the students who need the most the education they need. This is very much in line with the work we are doing at the Time to Succeed Coalition. How can we ensure that all students have the high-quality learning time they need and deserve? And particularly in high-poverty communities, how can we expand that learning time to provide more opportunities for academic support and enrichment classes?
We know that it is particularly effective if we are able to expand learning time and engage students in learning and enrichment opportunities by eighth grade. The middle school years provide many opportunities for adolescents to engage in risky behavior, but engaging them in positive classes through expanded learning time – while not separating them out from their peers to do so – can help to curb that. Additionally by expanding the school schedule, students can get targeted academic support they need, keeping them from falling behind and on a course to drop out.
Balfanz’s article shows similar ideals, and presented evidence from studies that the middle and high school experience will make or break a student.
“We have also learned that most students who eventually drop out can be identified as early as the sixth grade by their attendance, behavior and course performance, according to studies by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins…Using those indicators, it is possible to identify by the middle of ninth grade virtually everyone who will drop out.”
Every child is different and needs different things. We believe that more time in school can be the turning point that schools can leverage to provide the necessary supports to keep a student from dropping out.
As Balfanz wrote, “We can provide our most vulnerable children with a better chance for adult success. They deserve no less.” We agree. It is time to redesign our struggling schools to meet the needs of their students, including expanding learning time. We hope you join us.