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Editorial: Improving graduation rate is very good news

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 11:43 AM

It’s a trend that could mean millions of dollars in savings and a brighter future for West Virginia.

After struggling for years with stag­nant high school graduation rates, this week the state Department of Education released a report showing significant improvement. New statistics show that 79.3 percent of seniors graduated during the 2012-13 school year, up from 70.8 per­cent in 2008-09.

That is not only good news for those students, but for the public as well. The link between high school dropouts and other social costs such as prisons, wel­fare and health care is so strong that the Alliance for Excellent Education recently estimated that a 5-percent increase in the graduation rate could save the state $100 million a year in crime costs alone.

The numbers also demonstrate that with enough effort on enough fronts, West Virginia can make progress on even some of its most difficult problems. In this case, there were initiatives from the courts, the legislature, the school systems and the pub­lic, too. All have helped make a difference.

N Education : Many school systems began to put a new focus on graduation rates several years ago. Huntington High, for example, implemented a “freshman academy” in 2006 to better prepare incoming students and their families for the demands of high school. But educa­tors also found that many learning prob­lems began much earlier, and school sys­tems revamped elementary and middle programs, too. High schools have most recently found success with “graduation coaches” in the high schools who provide extra assistance to students at risk of not getting their degree.

N Public policy : The state legisla­ture has taken several important steps including raising the legal dropout age to 17, and some counties raised that to 18 under a state-approved program. Leg­islation also cut the number of permis­sible absences from 10 to five.

N Judicial : Judges around the state began to get serious about truancy. Too many students were missing 30-40 days a year with almost no legal repercussions. Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis trav­eled to every county to focus attention on the problem and help ramp up local efforts. Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell, for example, has brought dozens of families to court, warned them of the penalties for not attending school and backed that up with fines and fees in some cases. School systems also have hired probation offi­cers to keep track of students who have had attendance problems.

N Community support : For too many years, attendance problems were viewed as the school system’s problem. But now broader community-wide efforts such as the United Way’s Education Matters initiative are enlisting the help of volun­teers, mentors, businesses and local orga­nizations to help keep children in school.

That is a lot of hard work, and the prog­ress made over the last five years should be encouraging to all involved. But even with a 79 percent graduation rate, too many young people head out into the world without the skills and education to earn a living wage.

Hopefully, all these efforts also have helped lay the groundwork for further i mprovement .
 

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