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Programming factors into drop-out rate

Officials say equation is more than legislating mandatory age

Austin Public Schools drop-out and graduation rates

Drop-out rate Graduation rate

2002-2003 5.99 79.40

2003-2004 6.22 78.47

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2004-2005 3.50 83.43

2005-2006 4.05 85.63

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

By Karen Colbenson

kcolbenson@postbulletin.com

High school students might choose to drop out of school for a number of reasons, but the Legislature is considering bills that would boost the compulsory attendance age in hopes of deterring students from making that decision.

Minnesota is one of several states looking at raising the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18 to reduce the number of dropouts. Supporters of the bills say requiring students to stay in school until age 18 would help increase the number of graduates. There are 12 states that require students to attend through age 18.

John Alberts, director of educational services for Austin Public Schools, said the proposal might do some good for the drop-out rate, but age is just one of many factors in a student’s decision to drop out.

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"The intent is good," said Alberts. "I understand the intent, but a lot more goes into students dropping out than age."

Some students might drop out of school to go to work, said Alberts. Some students fall behind in course work and don’t believe they can fulfill the requirements and some would rather earn a GED.

Austin High School Principal Brad Bergstrom said because each student’s situation is unique, school administrators and staff use several strategies to help keep students in school.

"There’s no one real issue," said Bergstrom. "The best way to deter drop-outs is to make sure you have good programming in place so you can reach out to as many kids as possible. The second thing that’s really important is to have open communication between the school and parents so everyone knows what is going on."

According to Alberts, the AHS drop-out rate is on the decline, while graduation rates are increasing.

When a student does drop out, Alberts said, it affects the district in a number of ways.

"In terms of looking at ourselves, it’s obviously in some ways a failure that for one reason or another the student felt compelled not to complete," said Alberts.

Financial loss is also a repercussion, not only for the district but also for the drop-out.

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According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, approximately 14,900 students did not graduate from Minnesota’s high schools in 2007; the lost lifetime earnings in Minnesota for just that class of dropouts are more than $3.9 billion.

Tom Dooher, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, said he is skeptical the bill would help reduce dropout numbers without providing more vocational programs and alternative learning centers to encourage kids to continue their education.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

• We asked students for their thoughts on this topic — page A6

High school attendance bill https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S3574.2.html&session=ls85

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