By Valerie Woodruff
As a former high school teacher, counselor and principal, I have a special place in my heart for high school students. I’ve spent most of my career working to help them succeed in school and prepare them for life after high school. Over the years, this has become more and more challenging, as our culture and economy demand more sophisticated knowledge and skills. In Delaware and across the nation, educators are focused on revitalizing high schools to ensure that students graduate prepared to succeed in college, work and life.
Our first challenge is to reduce the number of dropouts. The United States has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the industrialized world. Nearly one million students drop out of school every year in this country, and almost half of all African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans fail to graduate. In Delaware, 1,995 students dropped out of high school during the 2005-2006 school year.
Those who leave school before earning a degree face dismal prospects for the future. Research shows that dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, in poor health, living in poverty, in prison, on public assistance, and have children who also drop out of high school. Why would someone choose this path? A recent survey by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that a strong majority of dropouts say they did not feel motivated or inspired to work hard in high school. Most were confident that they would have been able to graduate if they had put in the necessary effort, and would have worked harder if more had been demanded of them.
Many who do graduate are not prepared for college or the workplace either, both of which now require the same level of skills and knowledge. More than half of college professors (54%), and three-fifths of employers (58%) state that high school graduates do not posses the skills necessary for college or work.
We know that Delaware high school students are willing to work harder, because they have told us so! In fall 2006 and early 2007, the Department of Education hosted a series of youth forums. We invited high school students from all three counties to share their thoughts on their middle school and high school experiences. Every public high school in Delaware was represented. We asked them to tell us the good, the bad, and the ugly. What worked and what didn’t? What would they change? And, as you would expect, they were brutally honest. Yet they were also thoughtful and constructive. Here’s some of what we heard:
- Students tell us to expect more of them. Set higher expectations but help them and support them in meeting those goals.
- Make sure teachers know the content, but can also present it in different ways that students can understand. Make it relevant for them.
- Don’t lose them in the crowd. Students need to know that someone is watching out for them. They’re looking for a connection with someone in their school who has faith in them, offers encouragement, and even nags them at times.
Through the Reaching Higher for Student Success initiative, the Department of Education is addressing the need for rigor, relevance and relationships in many ways. All are focused on preparing our students for success in the workplace or college. Highlights include:
- New graduation requirements approved by the State Board of education to align with the entrance requirements of the state’s two public universities, including more comprehensive English Language Arts curriculum and four years of mathematics.
- Student Success Plans for all 8th and 9th graders beginning in the 2007-08 school year, with each student connected to an advisor who can provide one-on-one help to explore college and career options and make good curriculum choices to achieve their goals.
- Expanded Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings that will enable students to maximize their high school learning and accrue college credits without paying college tuition.
- Improved career and technical education aligned to industry-recognized certifications.
- Free college tuition through the SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree) scholarship program for an associate’s degree at Delaware Technical and Community College or the University of Delaware’s Associate of Arts degree program.
Please join us as we work to prepare EVERY student for a successful future. Visit our website at www.yesyoucande.com, or send an email with your ideas to: email@example.com. Help us assure that every student graduates with the confidence, knowledge and skills to pursue their dreams as they move from high school to college and careers, and into the real world.
Valerie Woodruff has served as Delaware’s Secretary of Education since July 1999-2008. She has been a teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal in high schools in both Maryland and Delaware.