In the first few weeks of a new semester there are two groups of people thinking about graduation, the graduating class and the Office of Public Instruction.
OPI announced a continued upswing in graduation rates, with fewer students dropping out, partially supported by recent Graduation Matters Initiatives.
“Making dropout prevention a statewide priority is paying off for Montana students and communities," Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said. "Every student we are able to keep from dropping out of school or who is inspired to continue their education after high school benefits not only that individual, but the entire state. ”
According to OPI’s release, the percentage of Montana students who graduated last spring was 83.9, up 1.7 percent from the year prior and 3.2 since Juneau took office in 2009.
On the Hi-Line, the numbers are mixed. From data provided by OPI, Havre High School’s graduation rate rose from 81.3 percent in 2011 to 86 percent in 2012, though both are lower than the 87 percent graduated in 2007.
North Star High School reached 100 percent graduation for the second time in the past five years last year, though that rate dropped to 93 and 85.7 percent in between.
Big Sandy graduated 100 percent three times in the past five years. In Chinook, 90 percent of students graduated in 2012, up from 76.9 percent in 2011 and 84 percent in 2010.
Tribal schools have had particular difficulty. Rocky Boy High School rose from the five-year low of 52.5 percent in 2011 to a five-year high of 76.5 percent in 2012, and has floated in the 60-70 percent range in between. Box Elder High School went from 47.1 percent to 64.6 percent in the past year. Hays-Lodge Pole High School went from 50 to 64 percent.
OPI attributes some of this change to a $450,000 award from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation which funded “a statewide network of locally designed, community-driven efforts to increase the number of Montana students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers in the Montana workforce. ”
“Investing in community-based efforts to improve the achievement of all students is the single-most important investment we can make in our children." Mike Halligan, executive director of the foundation, said in the OPI release. "Graduation Matters Montana is finding early successes because we know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and each community must tailor its efforts to what will work in their community. This kind of approach is at the core of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s mission, and we are proud to be able to support this critically important initiative. ”
Since the award, the initiative has more than doubled, from 11 to 28 communities, including Havre and Box Elder, so that more than 65 percent of high school students now attend a school with a Graduation Matters initiative.
And that number should grow, as OPI also announced an additional $150,000 in grants that would be split among further districts with innovative local ideas for preventing dropouts.
Juneau, Windy Boy to present opposite views at Helena hearing
Strong opinions on high school dropout rules are coming face to face Wednesday afternoon, when concerned parties sit down in the state capitol for a senate Education Committee meeting.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau is speaking in favor of a proposed bill to raise the minimum age to drop out, for the first time since 1921, from 16 to 18 years old. Sen. Jonathan Windy, a member of the committee that would have to approve the bill, could not disagree more.
Juneau said that the old law is outdated and harms today’s students who feel that if they just make it to 16, they don’t have worry about their education.
“We need to change that expectation, ” Juneau said. “It’s important for all adults to have those expectations of students. ”
The new expectation should fall more in line with wider cultural expectations. Juneau said this week that getting a good job requires a good education, and not just the one offered in the public school system.
Juneau said that, after a similar bill’s failure to pass in 2011, the bill has several exceptions, for home-school students, GED students, vocational and job-training, and more.
Windy Boy believes that the bill will not achieve what it claims it will.
“It’s a dumb law, ” Windy Boy said. “All this thing is going to do is make parents criminals. ”
He is worried about students who have to leave school to get jobs to support their families in tough economic times, or teenage parents who would be forced to leave their children for class. He is worried about lawyers and judges taking the law beyond what he already doesn’t support in the name of “legislative intent, ” which he has seen contort some laws wildly in his time in Helena.
Windy Boy fears “the unintended consequences of the policing state that we’re becoming, laws and penalties and making parents suffer more than they should. ”
Aside from fearful unintended consequences, he doubts the effectiveness of the intended consequences.
“This issue is a lot bigger than raising the dropout age, ” Windy Boy said, then lamented the difficulty of real solutions. “The nature of how the legislature works is a lot of those good bills never make it out of committee. ”