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The Best Economic Stimulus: Making Sure Students Graduate

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CIS Executive Director Molly Shaw wrote the following "For the Record" opinion column published in The Charlotte Observer on 10/16/2011:

For The Record - The Charlotte Observer, 10/16/2011

Much attention has been given to the recent graduation and promotion rates announced at last week's CMS board meeting, and deservedly so. A 74 percent graduation rate - while a significant improvement over a few short years - and an 18 percent ninth-grade failure rate, stand as a call to action for the entire Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. All of us have a stake in the success of our students.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, an estimated 11,200 students dropped out of Charlotte, Gastonia, and Concord area schools last year. This group of students is eight times as likely to wind up incarcerated, three times as likely to raise a child as a single parent, twice as likely to be unemployed and 50 percent less likely to vote. If just half of the students who dropped out had graduated, they would have collectively earned as much as $63 million more in an average year. If those 5,600 students had graduated, they would have contributed $6.5 million per year in additional tax revenue. If they had crossed the graduation stage, they would have likely spent more than $150 million more on home and vehicle purchases than they would spend without a diploma.

Ensuring every CMS student completes high school is one of the best economic stimulus packages in which this community can invest. CMS is already making progress toward this goal: Graduation rates have increased six percent in two years; CMS's recent winning of the Broad Prize for Urban Education recognizes the district's strides to close the achievement gap; and CMS has partnered with evidence-based dropout prevention programs like Communities In Schools to support students at risk of school failure. But it is unreasonable to expect CMS to do it alone. As a community, we have the ability and responsibility for ensuring our students succeed. In recent days, both Police Chief Rodney Monroe and CMS School Board Chair Eric Davis have stated the need for a grassroots movement to increase graduation rates.

Students drop out of school for many reasons: failing grades, too many missed days of school, the need to work to support family or care for younger siblings, teen pregnancy, peer-pressure and hopelessness. These reasons are complex and require multi-dimensional solutions. The National Dropout Prevention Center cites 15 strategies to help students stay in school and graduate, including creating safe learning environments, implementing early childhood education, ensuring family engagement, instituting consistent, high-quality mentoring programs, and providing strong professional development programs for teachers.

There is no silver bullet. There is not one agency that will provide the answer. Education is our collective responsibility, and together, we as citizens, parents, volunteers, and members of the school district, police department, community agencies, corporations, and faith-based organizations have the resources, skills and compassion to drive this movement forward. Communities In Schools invites committed individuals and groups to seek their place in supporting this movement to help all students succeed.

"For the Record" offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.

Link to column on Charlotte Observer website

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