'Every Number Is A Kid With A Story': The Fight Against Colorado's Students Dropping Out
Despite modest improvements over the last eight years, the number of Colorado students dropping out of high school went up slightly during the 2014-2015 school year, from 2.4 to 2.5 percent.
To many, a 2.5 percent dropout rate might sound like cause for celebration. That figure though equates to 11,114 Colorado students who left high schools without a diploma that year – 568 more than the year before.
"Even if we get our dropout rate under 1 percent, it makes it seem like that’s OK, because it’s low," said Steve Dobo, founder of the organization Zero Dropouts. "But it’s not OK. Every number is a kid - with a story - that we need to care about. We need to do better than that."
Dobo has been consulting with Greeley-Evans District 6 during the 2015-2016 school year. The district’s dropout rate is 3.1 percent, slightly above the statewide average. Dobo says the diverse Weld County district reflects larger trends across Colorado and the nation.
Interview Highlights With Steve Dobo
On Specific Challenges That Lead To Students Dropping Out
"We’ve identified four or five things that we needed to work on. One was math; a lot of districts haven’t figured out - 'how do we do math?' Society kind of has this general fear, so it’s not unusual that a district has a problem. But we had a high rate of failure in 9th grade algebra, for instance. And we need to figure that out. That was a big thing."
On The Transition From Middle School (Where Students Just Need To Attend) To High School (Where Students Need To Earn Credit)
"In [my] work I’ve met many students who have been in school for four years and felt like they should graduate, but some had zero credit -- they never passed a class -- but they still had that expectation that they were going to walk. And that was a difficult conversation for a counselor to have, to say, 'No, you’re not walking and you may never walk because you have zero credits after four years.' So we’ve got to do a better job of helping students in 9th grade understand how to do high school successfully. It's about credit and GPA if you want to go to college. And you can’t get behind, because if you get behind it’s very hard to catch up."
On How A Large District Like Greeley-Evans District 6 Approaches Dropouts
"I think we have a lot of opportunity to increase the four-year graduation rate, just by being more strategic, more systemic, more comprehensive in our approach. How do we help comprehensive high schools serve about 10 percent more students? If we’re between a 75 - 80 percent four-year graduation rate, how do we get to 90 percent? How do we serve that other group of students that we haven’t been able to serve so they don’t drop out – or we don’t have to send them to another school?"