The high school drop-out rate is on the rise for the Syracuse City School District.
“It’s a very serious problem,” said Steve Gramet, director of pupil services at the school district office. “Too many students don’t graduate,” he added. About 25 to 35 percent of students drop out of school each year, he said.
The drop-out rate has risen by five percent among the group of students who entered the ninth grade in 2002, according to the New York State Education Department’s annual report on the Syracuse City School District for the 2005-06 academic year.
District officials attribute the rise in the drop-out rate to various reasons. Poverty and family upheaval are the most common among them. A constant rise in the drop-out rate, the officials say, will jeopardize the federal funding to the district for the “No Child Left Behind” program.
But some advocates of quality education hold the schools responsible. A local grassroots organization suggests regular conversation among students, teachers and parents as a quick-fix to the problem.
From the New York State Education Department annual report, consider these statistics:
- 25 percent of the 2002 freshmen dropped-out of school. This is a jump of five percent over the 20 percent drop-out rate among the freshmen of 2001.
- Only 47 percent of 1,502 students in the freshmen class of 2002 graduated in 2006.
- Out of 1,379 students who entered the high school in 2001, only 52 percent graduated in 2005.
- The drop-out rate at Henninger High School is 31 percent, which is the highest among all the four high schools in the school district.
Spokesperson Neil Driscoll at the Syracuse City School District office blames poverty for many students’ problems in school. “Some of these students do very well, but poverty is often cited as an obstacle,” he said.
Driscoll identified language as another barrier, especially for non-English-speaking children. Lure of the street culture and ignorance that education is a tool for a successful future are other factors, he said, that add to the pool of reasons for dropping out of school.
The ninth grade is the most common stage when students often drop out of school, he said. An increased work load in higher grades makes it difficult for some children to cope.
The graduation rate is one of the benchmarks in determining the accountability under the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, Driscoll said. And a high drop-out rate can jeopardize federal funding for the school district, he said.
Luz Encarnacion, president of the Spanish Action League, identified the fifth grade as the stage when children often begin to encounter academic difficulties. She maintained that a rising drop-out rate can be fixed by addressing individual needs of each student.
“The Syracuse City School District needs to provide more assistance to the teachers,” she said. For her, after-school programs are a good platform to connect and extend help to children who lag behind in the regular school time.
Latrenda Carswell is co-chair of the education committee of the local chapter of the activist group called National Action Network. She also called for more communication among teachers, parents and students. That, she said, can shed light on the subject that intimidates the child the most. Parents often hesitate in communicating what problem their child is facing at home, Carswell said.
This lack of information renders teachers incapable of helping students at the school, she said. “There should be a dialogue among the people that need to speak up.”
The district has created what it calls “small learning communities” to address students’ needs, said spokesperson Driscoll. Those offer mentoring and tutoring programs and college-sponsored programs to guide and motivate children to earn college degree, said Driscoll.
(Trina Joshi is a graduate student in magazine-newspaper-online journalism.)