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October 25, 2014

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Six questions: Sam Drew:

Graduate rates too low, dropout rates too high

Even so, an education expert considers Nevada a “state on the move” to improvement

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Sam Morris

A summit in November drew educators to talk about dropout prevention. From left are Louise Helton, state director of Communities in Schools Nevada, Sam Drew, associate director of the National Dropout Prevention Center, and Gene Hall of the Nevada Public Education Foundation.

Nevada has one of the nation’s worst high school graduation rates. Sam Drew, associate director of the National Dropout Prevention Center, was the keynote speaker at a recent community summit in Las Vegas, one of 50 events nationwide funded through America’s Promise Alliance.

Education Week ranked Clark County as having the fifth-worst graduation rate at 44.5 percent. But School District officials say it’s closer to 60 percent. Which is right?

This isn’t just an issue for Clark County. The lack of a consistent method for calculating graduation rates and dropout rates is a problem nationwide. Most of the formulas don’t take into account students who find another way to graduate, either through an adult education program or GED. However you calculate it, no one disagrees that Nevada’s graduation rate is too low, and its dropout rate too high.

Has No Child Left Behind improved graduation rates?

The focus on testing and away from instruction may have actually exacerbated the problem. We need accountability, but we need to go about it in a way that supports students and moves them in greater numbers toward graduation.

What are some of the financial factors of the dropout crisis?

There’s a huge cost to the community as a whole. A high dropout rate means more people who need health care and social services, often at the taxpayers’ expense.

What works?

The keys are what we call the “three R’s.” Rigor — a student who is challenged academically is more likely to succeed. Relevance — students need to be able to relate what they’re learning to their own lives. Relationships — a student must have a support network of caring adults at home and in the school setting.

What steps would you recommend Nevada lawmakers consider?

States have tried all sorts of things — tying school attendance to eligibility for a driver’s license, citing parents for kids’ truancy. They work in the short term but then the effectiveness fades. Nevada lawmakers need to know there are no quick fixes.

Are there any signs of progress in Clark County?

Communities in Schools is doing a great deal to leverage public support, and that’s vital. I am enthused by the work being done here. If Nevada has the lowest graduation rate now, it’s certainly a state on the move.

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