Opinion: Money talks - young people walk
Why we need incentives to serve out-of-school youth
by Steve Honeyman
Youth voices have told a story of an academic system in Philadelphia that does not support staying in school. But there are reasons the system does not work as hard as it should to support thousands of our young people in staying in school or to chase after them if they leave.
Let's follow the money trail….
Schools receive dollars from government for their students based on enrollment figures finalized in October. If a school loses students after this time, it still gets to keep the money for that year.
Might the inadequate financial resources in some cases contribute to a school encouraging young people to withdraw? At the very least, scarce funding creates a system that does little or nothing to stop those who are leaving. A high school that loses a few hundred young people would have more adequate funding for the remaining students.
On the flip side, what incentive does a school have to try to bring students back or welcome those who might want to re-enroll? No new money follows the kid who returns anytime after the school's enrollment count is established in October. Maybe next year, if they stay, it will help the school's bottom line, but this year, there's no support or relief in sight. Imagine if hundreds or even thousands of kids who quit school came back – who would pay to educate them?
High stakes testing and the No Child Left Behind Act also may discourage the system from serving out-of-school youth. One might think that since many high schools are under pressure from NCLB to improve their graduation rate every year, they would be worried about any student that they lose. But the reality is more complicated than that. It is only officially coded dropouts that bring down a school's graduation rate. Many withdrawals never show up as official dropouts. Some are students drifting from school to school.
Meanwhile, principals are experiencing tremendous pressure to improve test scores and meet other NCLB standards – like the 95 percent target for test participation or (at the middle school level) the 90 percent target for attendance. Jobs and even dollars are on the line. In this high-stakes environment, there are some students that schools would rather not see on their rolls. It's easier to achieve the school's performance goals without dealing with those young people who need the most academic support.
Out-of-school youth often report difficulty re-enrolling when they decide to try to go back to school. In the world of NCLB, what incentive does a school have to take on more students who are likely to have a history of poor attendance and less than stellar test scores?
Elected officials should take note. Funding practices need to be revised to create incentives to keep every young person in school and to re-enroll those who have left. Financial incentives would be one way to make sure that schools value those groups of young people who are at greatest risk of dropping out.
Why not reward the schools financially that are serving the largest number of vulnerable students? No Child Left Behind needs to be true to its name and not push students out.