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Dropout Factories in the KC-Metropolitan Area

Illustration Credit: 123rf stock image

Research contributed by Isabella Martinez on Take Your Child to Work Day. Her middle school required a report about what she learned that day, and her response was, “I learned that poverty affects graduation rates.”

Earlier this spring, the KC Education Enterprise ran a story on graduation rates in the states of Kansas and Missouri. Today we would like to focus in on graduation and dropout rates on the local level. One statistic is not necessarily the inverse of the other. Graduates are the number of seniors receiving diplomas in any given year. However, many students start dropping out in middle and junior high school.

According to a recent report, Building a Grad Nation, “College graduates earn at least $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school dropouts.”

This report defines “dropout factories” as those where graduating is not the norm, 60 percent or less. Although the report does not break graduation and dropout rates down beyond the state level, my daughter and I have identified two local high schools that fit that definition.

Before naming the two, I should voice my discomfort with the phrase “dropout factories.” It implies that workers are intentionally manufacturing dropouts. People become educators for many reasons, but it is safe to say they do not intend to make students drop out of school. Some factors are out of their control.

The two high schools in the metro area with graduation rates of 60 percent or less — according to state education department statistics – are located in urban school districts. They are J.C. Harmon in Kansas City, Kan., and Central in Kansas City, Mo. (Two others in Kansas City, Mo. — East and Northeast High Schools — come in barely over the 60-percent threshold.) Another thing that these schools have in common is a large number of students from families living below the poverty level.

As a matter of fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between poverty level and the number of dropouts from any given school. even within districts. In the suburban North Kansas City district where we live, for example, three out of four high schools have a large number of students eligible for free- and reduced-price meals along with a correspondingly large number of dropouts. However, the newest high school — Staley — has the lowest dropout rate of the four, the highest graduation rate and the fewest students living in poverty. It is the only one of the four with a graduation rate of at least 90 percent.

A graduation rate of at least 90 percent for all of America’s high schools is the goal of the organizations sponsoring the Building a Grad Nation report. In the Kansas City-metro area, slightly more than half of high schools meet this definition. Although only two are classified as dropout factories, improvement is needed in about half of our high schools to meet that goal.

Although there are exceptions, overall a pattern is clear: Schools with low numbers of graduates have high numbers of students living in poverty. Please note that data has been entered for 62 local schools, but only the names of only about half appear in the illustration. I am working to resolve this issue and will update the chart as soon as I have the problem fixed. | Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise

The lead organization releasing the Building a Grad Nation Report is the America’s Promise Alliance, headed by Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. Three other sponsors are the Alliance for Excellent EducationCivic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center. Funding for the report comes from AT&T and the Pearson Foundation, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with a leading textbook publisher.

Next in This Series: Articles about some schools locally that are managing to increase graduation rates despite high percentages of students from disadvantaged families … and a look back a the history of high school and graduation rates to help put this issue into perspective.


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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.


2 thoughts on “Dropout Factories in the KC-Metropolitan Area

  1. There are so many other things that need to be factored in; ELL’s, refugee population, migrant population. I personally have worked with KCK this year with the migrant/refugee population. They have students coming to them of high school age (and older, who by law must be enrolled and served) with NO schooling at all or schooling up to the 5th grade levels, or refugee camp schools. You have to dig and find out what the contributing factors are. Then, what plan is in place to address those? The assumption that all students should graduate in 4 years is so out of date and out of touch with reality, yet that’s the standard by which the schools are judged. I know for a fact that KCK is working on those issues at ALL of their schools, not just Harmon.

    Posted by Janet Reynolds | May 4, 2012, 12:30 pm
    • Yes. And the next article in this series will be looking at the schools locally that are having some success educating these young people. I have heard KCK is making some strong progress.

      Posted by jwmartinez | May 4, 2012, 2:06 pm

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