Friday, May 28, 2010

Providing Opportunities for All Students

During the regular session of the 2010 General Assembly, House Bill 301 (HB 301) cleared the House but did not clear the Senate. This bill would have increased the dropout age from 16 to 18. Many states have already taken this initiative and have seen significant results in lowering dropout rates.

This legislation was supported by the Governor and First Lady. House Speaker Greg Stumbo joined Rep. Jeff Greer and several other legislative leaders in sponsoring the legislation. There are many excuses as to why we should not do this; however, there is one BIG reason why we should do this. We should not allow 16-year-olds to make decisions that will impact their lives both in the short term and long term.

Key concerns from teachers, principals and superintendents were very valid. These concerns focused on the need to provide support and programs for teens who were considering the dropout option. Recently, the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force heard about dropout prevention programs being implemented in many states. One of the presentations came from the Gateway to College Network. This group has been working in several states to implement programs in collaboration with community colleges. In several states, these programs are called Early College or Middle College. For more information about the Gateway programs, please visit

As a local superintendent in North Carolina, I worked with the North Carolina New Schools Project to implement early colleges for leadership/technology and visual/performing arts. Both schools were extremely successful in helping students stay in school and not only graduate on time, but also earn college credit. It was amazing to watch these students enter a community college and take college courses. In most cases, these students had not been very successful in middle school. The school provided the appropriate relationships, rigor and relevance with support systems that expected student success. The early colleges had the highest attendance rates and no dropouts and provided students with the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree at NO COST to parents.

The language in the budget bill this week came from the original HB 301:

Notwithstanding any statute to the contrary, the Commissioner of Education may approve a plan that is established by a local school board and a postsecondary institution accredited by the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools for purposes of granting high school and college credit and which allows students to fulfill high school graduation requirements and compulsory school attendance; providing rigorous academic curriculum within a supportive and nurturing environment for underserved students; and encouraging academic success by linking students, teachers, and community partners in innovative ways.

This language provides the Kentucky Department of Education with the ability to work with several districts who are considering the Early College and Middle College innovation. This language also opens the opportunity for numerous foundation and federal grants that could provide funding for planning and implementation.

While we would have much preferred HB 301 to have become law, this provision allows us to develop models that will help provide the support that districts and schools need to convince adults that more students can be successful in Kentucky. More than 6,000 students drop out of schools every year in Kentucky. No one individual is to blame. The system is the problem, and we have to look for innovations to improve the system. Thanks to Rep. Harry Moberly for the language, and thanks to legislators for their support. Now, to work!

P.S. HB 301 had nothing to do with charters, and this language has nothing to do with charters. The only objective is to help districts and schools help more children. Sorry to disappoint all you conspiracy theorists!

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