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Onward To A High School Diploma

On the heels of last week’s local elections, Atlanta and many cities across America have newly elected school boards each promising positive change, more accountability and a better education for our children.

Here in Atlanta, approximately half of the students who start ninth grade in the Atlanta Public Schools don’t graduate.  Nationally, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds.  The personal, societal and economic impact of educational failure is massive and maddening.

These sobering statistics unfortunately cast a negative shadow on the work of millions of highly motivated and dedicated educators who daily do their best to teach, inspire and guide young people.  It must be frustrating beyond belief that the national statistics don’t reflect a better collective end result.  Perhaps there is solace in knowing that one has contributed as much as can be done on an individual level, but that structural forces bigger than any of us are holding back greater outcomes.

On a brighter note, a myriad of educational reform programs are beginning to chip away at some of the gunk that may be at the clogging up the system.  With no personal ability to judge what is the needed diagnosis, I share anecdotally some ideas and curriculum approaches that have crossed my path with hopes that they illuminate a way forward, recalibrate the dropout yield curve and provide a new generation jazzed and juiced to build a better country and healthier world.

The Future Project is on a mission to transform America’s high schools into the most inspiring places on earth (now that’s what I’m talking about!).  Using a full time “Dream Director” whose only job is to help students act on their dreams, The Future Project is helping students develop the confidence, 21st century skills and passion to succeed in the classroom and beyond.  Based on great early results with over 1,000 students in three states, The Future Project in just its third year is spanning out across the country.

The National College Advising Corp  recruits recent college graduates to serve as full-time college counselors at under-served high schools to make sure that qualified students don’t miss out on a college education.  Helping students navigate the complex web of admission and financial aid, NCAC raises the college go-rate of many low-income, first generation college attendees. Today there are 372 counselors assisting over 100,000 students a year.

Outward Bound’s Expeditionary Learning program offers experiential project-based curriculum and professional teacher development to help transform existing schools into places where students become leaders in their own learning.  With a focus on the national Common Core curriculum and beyond, EL’s program combines effective content with rigorous practice, bringing together the “what” and “how” for engaging instruction.   Over nearly two decades, EL has grown from a mere 10 schools into a program the size of a major urban school district.

While not comprehensive, these three programs represent change afoot, offering small glimmers of innovative light cast against the much larger vortex of federal, state and individual school board programs each seeking improvement in their own ways.  Perhaps educator Wanda Hopkins-McClure, during Friday’s insightful TEDxPeachtree conference, got it right when she said “innovation in education will happen one teacher, one student, one classroom at a time.”  Well, that time is now.  We cannot wait and we need to aggressively rethink how we can fix this broken system so vital to our future success.

6 Responses to Onward To A High School Diploma

  1. Anita Beaty says:

    Brilliant, insightful and kind. MOst of all full of the passion that all of us might learn from: one parent, one person, one school at a time.

    Thank you, Bob.

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