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October 21, 2014

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Report: Dropouts more likely to become criminals

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Heather Cory

Jeff Kirsch, vice president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, address the media about the link between high school dropouts and crime during a press conference at Clark County High School on Thursday.

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Dr. Walt Rulffes, superintendent of the Clark County School District, addresses the media at a Thursday press conference at Clark County High School.

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Sheriff Douglas Gillespie addresses members of the press about the link between high school dropouts and violent crime during a press conference at Clark County High School on Thursday.

Students who drop out of school are more likely to end up as criminals.

Sheriff Douglas Gillespie and Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes discussed this finding from a recently released report at a news conference Sept. 25.

Both officials stressed the importance of early education as a solution to the high number of students leaving school before graduation — and said reducing the dropout rate would reduce the crime rate.

School and Metro Police officials cited the report "School or the Streets," released in 2008, by the national group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, as the source of the troubling findings.

The report states that high school dropouts are 3 1/2 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested and eight times as likely to be in jail or prison.

Two works are cited by the group as the source of these statistics: "The Silent Epidemic, Perspectives of High School Dropouts," a 2006 report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and a 1985 Stanford Education Policy Institute paper, "On the Social Cost of Dropping Out of School," by James Catterall, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles' Graduate School of Education.

Gillespie called the connection between high school graduation rates and incarceration rates dramatic.

"We're especially in trouble in Nevada with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country," he said.

According to accountability reports, which are prepared in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Clark County School District's graduation rate for the 2007-2008 school year was 63 percent, meaning that percentage of ninth graders went on to graduate from high school.

Another report issued this year, by the publication Education Week, found the district's graduation rate much lower: 44.5 percent of ninth graders in the class of 2005 actually graduated. That's the fifth-worst rate among the nation's largest school districts. Detroit performed the worst in that study with a graduation rate of just 37.5 percent. The best rate among the largest districts in the nation was posted by Cypress-Fairbanks, Texas, at 89.6 percent.

Clark County officials have disputed the validity of the Education Week report, saying it doesn't take into account the high transiency rate in the Las Vegas area and the corresponding difficulty in tracking students who move out of the area. They also say the Education Week report didn't give students credit for graduating if they received a certificate of attendance or a general education degree.

District Associate Superintendent Joyce Haldemen said there are a number of methodologies used and factors considered in determining dropout rates and that incorporating transience is a challenge, but whatever the dropout number is, it's too high.

"We could spend all of our time trying to figure out the real numbers," she said, "but we're better off trying to mitigate the problem."

And district and Metro officials agree, mitigating the problem involves intervention at a young age.

"High quality early education is one of our first weapons in our arsenal to increase graduation rates and fight crime," Gillespie said.

The state and federal governments could be sources of funding to improve early education, participants at the news conference said.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Vice President Jeff Kirsch said, "We're going to try to take advantage of an opportunity to tell Sen. (Harry) Reid and other members of Congress that investing in early education is a priority. It will pay off tremendously in a lot of ways."

Rulffes said the district will seek funds from the Legislature for more money for early education.

"We have to appeal to the state to make it a high priority," he said.

Officials were not clear on how much money would be needed for such improvements.

The improvements to early education would include more access to preschool programs and full-day kindergarten for all of the district's students.

Current measures to improve early education include work being done with the United Way on a program that assesses the readiness of preschool children to go into elementary school and helps give them guidance when needed.

Another means to the same end is the district's focus on constructing more technical academies, which are schools that offer career-oriented courses in different specializations or trades.

School Board Trustee Terri Janison said the students who attend the academies have a higher graduation rate, so the district has made the commitment to focus funds on building more technical academies in different areas of the valley.

The district currently has three academies, located in the southeast, northwest and east areas of town.

The East Career and Technical Academy opened this year.

The Northwest Career and Technical Academy opened for ninth and 10th graders only for the 2007-2008 school year with 911 students.

For the same school year, the Southeast Career and Technical Academy enrolled 1,837 students and had a dropout rate of 0.4 percent.

Two more career and technical academies are planned to be constructed, said Janison.

The graduation rates are higher at the academies because the students are engaged and choosing the programs they want to go after for their careers, she said.

"No matter what age you are, you'll always do better in something you want to do and that's the key," she said.

Ashley Livingston can be reached at 990-8925 or [email protected].

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