US schools fight to keep students amid fear of dropout surge due to Covid

WION Web Team
Kansas City  Published: May 12, 2021, 02:52 PM(IST)

Children studying in the US. (file photo) Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Soaring numbers of students, who are failing classes or are chronically absent have experts fearing the worst, and schools have been busy tracking down wayward seniors through social media, knocking on their doors, assigning staff to help them make up for lost time and, in some cases, even relaxing graduation requirements

US educators are doing everything they can to track down high school students who stopped showing up to classes and to help them get the credits needed to graduate, amid an anticipated surge in the country’s dropout rate during the coronavirus pandemic. 

There isn’t data available yet on how the pandemic has affected the nation’s overall dropout rate, 2019 is the last year for which it is available, and many school officials say it’s too early to know how many students who stopped logging on for distance learning don’t plan to return.  

But soaring numbers of students, who are failing classes or are chronically absent have experts fearing the worst, and schools have been busy tracking down wayward seniors through social media, knocking on their doors, assigning staff to help them make up for lost time and, in some cases, even relaxing graduation requirements. 

“When students drop out, they typically look for an out, an opportunity to leave. And this has provided that, unfortunately,” Sandy Addis, chairman of the National Dropout Prevention Center, said recently, referring to the pandemic. His group believes the dropout rate has spiked this year and will remain high for years. 

At one high school in Kansas City, Kansas, staff members have made thousands of calls to the families of at-risk students, said Troy Pitsch, who supervises high school principals in the city. 

“If we lose a student, it is going to be after kicking and screaming and fighting tooth and nail for them,” Pitsch said. 

Many districts were forgiving last spring when schools shut down abruptly, freezing grades unless students wanted to improve them. That made this year the first for which schools would feel the full effects of the pandemic on student performance and engagement. 

The early signs aren’t encouraging. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization warned that the pandemic had put 24 million children worldwide at risk of dropping out of school. And the pandemic’s effects could erase gains the US made in reducing its dropout rate, which fell from 9.3% in 2007 to 5.1% in 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Not finishing high school significantly hurts a person’s earning potential, with dropouts bringing home an average of $150 less per week than graduates, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

To keep students on track, some local governments and school systems have waived certain testing requirements for graduation or changed grading policies so that missed assignments aren’t as damaging. But such leniency carries the risk of watering down academic standards, said Russell Rumberger, a professor emeritus of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has written about dropouts. 

“If they let you pass with a D and you don’t have to do very much to do it, maybe technically you are getting a diploma, but you are not getting the same type of diploma you may have gotten prior to the pandemic, when the standards were higher,” he said. 

(With inputs from agencies)  

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