CMS confronts rise in dropout numbers

As schools crank back up, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials find themselves confronting a high school dropout problem that recent statistics suggest could be worsening.

This month, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction revealed that four-year graduation rates had declined for virtually every CMS high school. Even suburban high schools, such as Hopewell, Providence and North Mecklenburg, saw their rates dip by at least 10 percentage points.

District officials blame some of the decline on improved recordkeeping that identifies more kids who quit school. But Superintendent Peter Gorman says CMS must step up its fight against dropouts.

The district has already broken some schools into smaller units, supplied extra help to other low-performing schools, and launched a special program for rising ninth-graders who aren't ready for high school work.

Some believe another step could come this fall, when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is expected to decide whether to lower its graduation requirements. CMS requires 28 classes, eight more than the state mandates.

It sounds like a good idea to Bill Anderson, a former principal who leads the Communities in Schools dropout-prevention program.

He applauded the school board for having raised the standards, but believes the higher standards make many lower-performing students lose hope. Rather than sit in a ninth-grade class with 14- and 15-year-olds, a struggling 17-year-old might quit.

Solving the dropout problem will require improvements not just in high schools, he believes, but at all grade levels.

“It's so much more complex than the average person knows,” Anderson said. “I don't think parents understand it. I don't think our middle school teachers talk about it enough.

“If you don't have a high school diploma,” he added, “it's going to be hard to land any sort of decent job.”

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