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Middle School Dropout Prevention:

Crucial Course Correction


Q. Obviously, it's too late to focus dropout prevention efforts on high-school students. But grade school seems a bit early. Is there a lot being done to zero in on guidance and counseling for at-risk middle-schoolers, and forget the younger and older kids?


No one in education would ever say "forget" any student at any stage of development. But you're right: dropout prevention should peak in the middle-school years, since that is when student dreams are best connected to the practical form of making them come true.


And our nation's grade schools and middle schools have apparently been doing a poor job of preparing youngsters for how to make their dreams come true. Apparently, their self-esteem has been bolstered considerably, for they have high aspirations for going to college. But as a practical matter, their knowledge of how to get there - how to build a high-school career most likely to put them in position to make it in college - is very poor.


According to a survey of 1,814 youth in seventh and eighth grades, conducted for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the education honorary Phi Delta Kappa International, 93% of the middle school youth claimed that there is "no way" they would be dropping out of high school. That flies in face of the facts - that half a million youth drop out of high school every year.


Those students claimed that they were going to go on to college, when again, reality shows that far fewer of them actually go.

Also of importance, 83% of those surveyed said that they had little or no idea of what high school classes they should choose in order to put themselves in the best position to succeed in college.


The results show that the middle-school kids have unrealistic expectations and are fuzzy about how to go about fulfilling their goals.


That's a recipe for disaster - the probable cause of so many underachieving youth who drop out of high school.


Into that recipe should come the ingredients of better college and career guidance in middle school, better high-school course selection planning, better mentoring . . . and a whole lot more serious communication between adults and middle-school youth about what school is for and why they are there.


Homework: For a look at the poll that showed the disconnect between student aspirations for higher-learning, and how informed they are about the preparations necessary for college, see the survey results from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and Phi Delta Kappa International:


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 144 2008



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