About the Reporting Labs
PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs are classrooms, after-school programs and clubs around the country producing original, inspiring reports about how national and global issues affect local communities.
Radio Rootz, New York City
“Checking In On Dropping Out” is a collaborative project by PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs and People Production House's Radio Rootz program. Many of the Radio Rootz journalists come from so-called “dropout factories” where only 60 percent of students finish in four years. Their reporting investigates why so many of their classmates are not finishing high school and how their peers feel about the perceptions and realities of public education.
After a screening of the students' work, PBS NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan led a discussion with John Bridgeland, President & CEO of Civic Enterprises, Anurima Bhargava, Chief of Educational Opportunities at the Department of Justice, Kavitha Cardoza, Senior Reporter at WAMU 88.5, Del McFadden, Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative, and Radio Rootz reporters Khalis Marshall and Ingrid Cerón.
HARI SREENIVASAN: As a reporter to another reporter, Ingrid, first I kind of wanted to ask you: What did you, what did you think this story was going to be about and what did you learn in this process?
INGRID CERON: I thought really that Dropout Factors were going to focus on the problems going on in the school, like actually follow students on a day—to—day basis and see what they go through, both inside and outside the school building. I think that all the problems, like potential gang violence, or just problems in the family, and just stuff like that that affect somebody in school, the signs of needing to drop out.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, it's fascinating, and when you're working with these stories, whether they're from D.C., Khalis, or from New York, what are you seeing that isn't making it in here? What are the kind of themes that these, these kids are talking about that are so important to them that are keeping them out of classrooms?
KHALIS MARSHALL: I think the main theme is the same problems that they deal with in school, is the same problems that they deal with in their life on a day—to—day basis; for instance, the support and mentoring from the adults and teachers. And I can't say for the New York side, but in definitely D.C., throughout the, throughout my four years of Cardozo High School, we have had, I'd say, at least 60 teachers come in and out of that building within that four years, and during that time, there is not enough time there to make a connection between the teachers or somebody within that building that helps support you, someone there to talk to other than your friends.
So, and with that, there's also the gangs of the, the same gangs that, that are close and inside the school are most of the times the same ones in the neighborhood. For instance, Cardozo, was one of the schools that we did in the piece, I would say that, that school alone has had about, I would say, nine different neighborhoods in that building, and literally there was actually a day that I was actually scared to go in there because I know some, there was people in there that didn't like me, but I really don't know what reason for that, and I was in middle school with these people, and I don't know what happened there, but for some reason they have animosity towards me and—
HARI SREENIVASAN: So you didn't feel safe?
KHALIS MARSHALL: No, I didn't feel safe. And so these are the same problems in the schools people deal with outside in their lives on a day—to—day basis.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. Now, at the end of the D.C. story, you had mentioned that D.C. schools had said no comment to you, and I'm wondering Commerce, Department of Education, did they say no comment to you or what did they say?
KAVITHA CARDOZA: I wanted to say that, one, I love the video, and two, as student reporters, you know you're a true reporter when someone says, after repeated requests—
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Welcome to my world. DCPS is much better with me, because I cover them on an ongoing, and no one wants to hear every single morning three times DCPS would not comment, and I think they really try to improve our print. But for a long time, I mean, that's what it is. And it isn't just DCPS, it's with the charter schools. It's with—I mean, it's with a range, like whoever you cover, they first try and stall. And what I really loved about your video is that you really showed that you don't always need the official comment. You know, that's one part of it, but as important, if not more important, is your experiences.
When I am covering a story, and I have an adult's voice and a young person's voice saying exactly the same thing, I always go with the young person's because there's such authenticity and honesty. And it what's you're working on, right? I mean, I passed out of high school a long time ago. Anything I know is all through someone else. So I think that was really, really a good job, that, you know, you got the story through anyway.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yeah. Del, one of the statistics that kind of leapt out at me is that ratio of 600 to 1. I mean, you're that one, you know, in the sense that there are, there are so few adults and guidance counselors that are working in these schools. And Khalis just kind of referenced it, that there aren't really these role models, these adults that they can look up to, especially the ones that are in front of the classroom that stick around long enough.
DEL McFADDEN: I think the role model piece and just having positive adults in your life that really inform us, the direction of your life.
In the communities that we work in, that's really an issue. And I think for the small time that I come into an individual's life in just being consistent and showing that I care. I think care and love and trust are the most important things in these youths' lives. And until they know that you care, you can sit there and speak until you are blue in the face, they want to know do you care, are you interested in their well being. And until we start to fill some of the numerous voids in these youths' lives, we are going to continue to chase our tails and look for solutions when solutions are really right there in front of our face.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, even on a practical matter, how do you convince these kids that they should feel safe walking into that building, if they are kind of Khalis's shoes, I don't know why this guy doesn't like me, but he wants to beat me up, and maybe I should avoid the building where I know I'm about to get beat up?
DEL McFADDEN: Well, a lot of times, you know, there are mediations and cease fires and different things take place. I think when you get to the core, allowing individuals to really speak on what created the situation in the first place, that's if they can remember what created the situation in the first place, because we have a lot of that. You know, we have a beef, I just don't like it. So really addressing the issue and putting it on the table. And a lot of times, we can resolve the issues just by those, those discussions and coming to some agreements. So that's very important.
But I think until you really touch some core issues. I think in society, you know, if it is police work or general work, we tend to always focus on a response after something happened; after the shooting, after the kid drop out. But before a youth pick up a pistol or make wrong decisions, there are so many things that happen that goes wrong before that. And, you know, I really wish that we were able to touch on situations before youth get to that point where they feel like they have to pick up a pistol or drop out of school because it's unsafe.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So what's the Department of Justice, what's the U.S. government doing to try to make sure that my kids, if I had kids, go to school safely?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: Well, I think the question of how we create safe environments in schools has a lot of dimensions to it, and it involves making sure that teachers can actually walk in the door and they're not wandering out, you know, it's making sure that there's not -— you know, the things that we work on are harassment. We'll work on making sure that schools are not isolated, because we know that if there is schools where there is a high percentage of students who are in poverty, a high percentage of students who are of a particular race, we see all of these problems manifest themselves at much greater levels, right?
And the other things we work on are trying to figure out, to use Del's analogy, you know, unfortunately, for, for the Department of Justice or the Department of Education, we often come in at the end, right, when it's gotten to a point where a lawsuit is filed or students, you know, there's been violence in a school or something really egregious has happened. And I think the focus really should be exactly where Del put it, which is how do we get to the point where we're thinking about what's, what the foundation of a school is.
And so one of the things that we do a lot of, which people forget about, but I think is really important, is figuring out, we have hundreds of what are the old time desegregation cases around the country, and sometimes we'll say why do you ever talk about them still. And the reason I talk about them is because there are lots of places where, you know, we see the same kind of eyes and the same kind of problems in schools that we saw many decades ago.
But more importantly, one of the things that came out of those kind of cases and those kinds of inquiries, are like what are the foundations of what we need to be doing in schools, like do we have quality teachers, do we have facilities, do we have toilets and textbooks in schools, because there are lots of places where like there is no toilet in the school, so you're not going to get them to walk in a building where they have to find, you know, they have to find a way to go to the bathroom. They're walking out of the building again to go do so, right. And those are real problems in schools today, and trying to actually take that back and look at what are the foundations of what's happening in schools, which are the core of a lot of the work that I think the Department of Justice and those around the country is really important, and we forget about that. And so those are the things that we ought to—what we call the graduate rate crises. I don't like to call it the dropout crises, because dropout makes it sound like it's an individual moment, and I think it's a collective moment.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So in 2011, there are schools in America that don't have toilets?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: Absolutely.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a lawsuit against that?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: There are many, many state lawsuits. We call them the textbooks and toilets seats, right, about the fact that there's just, there's not toilets in schools or there's not textbooks in schools.
And, you know, the voices of students, any student will tell you, why do I have 20—year—old book, right, which is the reality of what we're talking about in terms of, of resources. So I'm not, you know, at some level that has to be part of the conversation about what we do in terms of graduation rates or how do we keep students in schools.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, John, is the student reporting tracking with what, you know, the Dropout Nation series for Time Magazine was, what, 2006, right?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: That's right.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It was quite some time ago, and since then, I have just been kind of looking for numbers; sometimes I hear one in three aren't going to graduate, sometimes I hear one in four, and what I am starting to realize is that I don't really know if there is a definitive source for data on dropouts. Is there?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: There is finally, and the good news is this school year, we will know for every school district, every state in the country exactly what the high school graduation rate is based on four year, those who begin in ninth grade, those who graduate four years later, accounting for transfers in and transfers out.
But I, too, want to compliment the students who—the Gates Foundation called us a number of years ago and said how do we involve this issue to the national stage? And we had discovered there had been research dating back to 1870 but that never one had ever talked to the customer, no one had ever talked to dropouts themselves. And so we did all across the country, in places like L.A. and Boston, but also small towns like St. Clairsville, Ohio, and the number one issue that they identified got back to wanting a trusting, loving relationship, wanting to see some connection between what they wanted to be in life, and their dreams were as big as any other child's, and what they were learning in the classroom. I just have to tell you one story. I was in Philadelphia, and this 16 year old girl, I said what did you want to me, you know, and she said, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I was inspired by the NASA space program. I said, what are you doing now? She was literally a prostitute on the streets of Philadelphia. And seeing how somebody goes from having that large ambition. And she went on to tell us that no one ever made a connection between her interest in being a astrophysicist in the NASA space program and what she was learning in the classroom. We learned so much from that survey. And I actually think that one of the solutions dropout epidemic is student engagement, and through the Radio Rootz, and the program, Ingrid, you have done, this is a way to engage young people in helping to solve this issue for themselves.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Ingrid, did the students that you talked to, based on—you know, did you have an effect on them by raising this issue, by making them part of the story?
INGRID CERON: Yeah, I feel like I did, because it seems like already dropped out, like, there's no one he could turn to about that. And Andy, he was on the brink of dropping out, and I guess just bringing up this issue like to them probably made them think, oh, someone actually cares about the decisions I'm making or the decision I made, someone actually cares about how it's being affected by wanting to drop out or dropping out.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And Kavitha, do you find that when you start to speak to students, that sometimes that is one of the first times an adult has actually given, you know, them the time of day?
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Yeah. I mean, some research suggests that the number one reason for kids to kind of stay in school and do well in school and feel good about being in school is to have a good relationship with just one adult. It doesn't have to be a host of adults surrounding you, just one caring relationship with an adult, and our kids don't have that.
I mean, to go back to your point about numbers, I mean, one of the problems is, I just did a preliminary kind of interview, because I've reported on smaller kind of bits of it, but I don't have this big series, let me just do a preliminary interview, the problem is that the numbers are just all over the map. And when people say the graduation rates, and we have had press conferences in the last three years saying the graduation rate is increasing, everyone is truant, right? The problem is that it's not—when you say it's a 72 percent graduation rate, so automatically people think well, a hundred percent minus 72 is the dropout rate, and that is not true. Most of the dropouts happen between the eighth and ninth year, so you should be looking that that's the new system we're going to, where you take the total number of children going into high school, and then how many have graduated, not just how many are graduating from the senior class. So you can see even when, when we talk about numbers, like how many more kids are being affected that way, not even kind of thinking about those, those numbers. So I definitely think more opportunities for just adults to, to be around.
One of the things, Del, I was really—you know, we haven't met, but when I saw you, one of the things I thought was, oh, my god, he's a man, because there are so few male teachers. There are so few male guidance counselors. There are so few male role models for our young men. And so, you know, and that is, I think, a really important part of the issue, too, that a lot of times I interview young men, and they say, oh, everyone is a girl, or anything that they're told by the female teachers at a certain age is like, that's kind of girly, oh, girls do that, girls want to go on to college. You know, so I think that's.
DEL McFADDEN: Yeah. And the support that we have conversation about men, and I was talking about how I was working with this youth, and he missed a couple of appointments with his probation officer. So I went to his house that morning to pick him up, and his mother went in the basement to get him, and he literally cursed her out. So she ran upstairs crying, and she was like, "DEL McFADDEN, please go deal with him."
So, you know, after seeing it, I went downstairs, and, you know, kind of pulling this false attitude, and I said, "Get up off the bed, go to the bathroom, wash your face," and the whole time, you know, a kid just as big as, you know, I am. And I was sitting there for like a half a second thinking what was going to be his response. I was actually bluffing. And the kid jumped up off the bed, went in the bathroom, washed his face, put his stuff on, DEL McFADDEN, ready to go. So these kids long for that engagement, but it's not there, and those positive, those positive opportunities and influences and just support is not there.
And as I state time and time again, with, with doing this work and working with schools and working with certain individuals who are labeled the worst of the worst, you know, we call them high risk, we call them tier one individuals, and when we go to engage these individuals, like they say a certain community have these kids corner is terrible, and going out there with a lot of confidence, and saying, hey, Steve, whatever, what's going on. Are you interested in a job or are getting you getting your GED, you know, they'll flock to you. They all want that opportunity.
Where I worked Columbia Heights community, when drive down 14th Street, it's very difficult to drive by without stopping, because so many guys who are titled worst of the worst, you know, they want an opportunity and that comes through that relationship and that consistency.
and it's wild, because working with a lot of my youth, some of the toughest youth, I tell them I love them, and it's so weird, it's a weird moment. There's some silence, and they like what did you say? Because they are so not used to it. They are—I have seen kids walk into walls just by saying, man, I love you. You know, and they kind of like, all right, man, we cool.
DEL McFADDEN: You know, and so until we really put those things in place and people come out of their homes and go in the corner. You know, I've worked in some schools, and, you know, we can't be afraid of, of these kids. You know, and they pick that up. They pick that up. And lot of times I'm out there, I bluff. But I'm like, if I can change this individual's mind set and create a lasting effect that even when I'm not here, he is thinking in a positive manner and he can influence a couple of his friends, then that's powerful. I have done my day of work.
And I think we also need to look at, if you have 40, 50, 60 percent, you know, graduation rates, like, that's, that will be a death, right? So while we're not holding principals and teachers and people accountable and responsible for these situations, because we're failing our kids, and it's progressively, progressively gets worse each year.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Anurima, what about that chasm between general school dropout rates versus schools that are predominately children of color? Is there any way that you can make a civil rights issue out of that?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: Actually, you didn't even have to go that far, because if you take the dropout factor is that that they talked about in their reports, even in the 2,000 dropout factories in the country, even in some of those 2,000 dropout factories, within the school itself, there is a huge disparity between the graduation rates among students of color and white students within the same school, right, so which is, which is, you know, somewhat of an easier argument to make, that like what is it that the —- what's going on in that school that you have that kind of, of disparity from within a school wall.
But around the country, I mean, I think that the, the kinds of policies and how they're implemented in terms of, you know, what, what leads to dropout. There can be -— I mean, lots and lots of reasons for it, which have been laid out in some of the reports lately. But the couple that I want to just focus on are policies that, that suspend kids out of, out of class, right? It's hard to catch up, right? It's hard to come back in.
Testing, which -— or testing and retention, which is where, you know, you get put, put back in the same grade, one of the leading indicators of dropout, and certainly you don't want people getting to the point where they're in eighth or ninth grade and can't read, because that's not a good place to be either. But we have to think about how it is that we don't actually create an environment and they're right back to the third grade classroom and learning the same thing, which is not all that much, and not being able to pass that test again.
So those kind of, those kinds of policies which are leading to the disparities that we are seeing are more the ones that I think are, are the civil rights issues, because, ultimately, the graduation rates are, are kind of the result of all of those things, right, so let's get back to the, to the foundational problems and like what are we doing that isn't serving students of color. And certainly, when you look at what's happening in the graduation rates, whatever the numbers may be, right, so whatever the numbers are, graduation rates for students of color, for English language learners, for students with disabilities, and particularly, you know, to put it on a gender line, for men of color, are much lower, right? So, we should think about, you know, what's leading to that and, and how do we sort of address those underlying questions. And that's, I think, what we're, we're trying to do, and the graduation rates are the end of that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So John, kind of shifting gears, well, what does work? I mean, when you look out at the states over the past five or six years, instead of letting a thousand flowers bloom and have everybody have a great idea, what are, you know, ten ideas or five ideas or three ideas that you have seen replicated across different school districts or different regions that are starting to pay off?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: Well, there's finally, after decades of despair, there is some progress, both at the state level and the school district level.
And Del, you really hit on it, which is, if schools focus on and establish, you know, make it a priority, the superintendent, the principal, teachers care about more young people graduating from high school, and then create a school climate that fosters a focus on providing the supports every step of the way, you can predict, with about 70 percent certainty, that a young person, in the third and fourth grades, whose attendance, poor behavior, and course failure, will lead to dropping out. And if we know that as early as third and fourth grade, in this little town of Richmond, Indiana -— and I know dropout factor is not a popular term, but they were on the dropout factor list, and they mobilized the community, and one of the things they did was double the capacity of communities in schools, which provides more mentors and boots on the ground to help these young people, as early as third and fourth and fifth grades, to get them the support they need. Some need a mentor, some need a tutor, some need mental health counseling, some need a lot of a family—based supports.
And so it's the marriage of accountability, setting goals, mobilizing exemplar educators and administrators to help train teachers, so you have a high quality teacher in the classroom who engages the young people with service learning and hands—on learning, things that will really capture young people and connect to their interests, coupled with, literally, more boots on the ground and people like Del, who are helping keep these young people on track.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So when you say double the capacity of community inside the classroom, what does that mean? What do I have to do qualify and how do I get in to helping out a school?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: Let me give you a really powerful example. So, which is a national service, you've all seen the red coats on these young people who are college, college graduates, so they are, in a sense peer—to—peer mentors. They go into 60 school districts. They greet every single person in the school by name at 7:30 in the morning. At the direction of the teachers, they mentor and tutor these young people, and then they learn about, you know, Adele's interest is music, and then connects the curriculum to her interest in music.
Then after the school day finishes, they escort them to the Boys and Girls Club after school program, because the data shows, the Department of Justice, from 3:00 to 6:00 every day can be a very dangerous time for young people, when, if they're not engaged in activity. And now the Boys and Girls Club, their number one priority is addressing the dropout epidemic and working with the schools to help keep kids on track. And the mentor is literally there after the Boys and Girls Club event, program to escort the young person back home.
And if the young person doesn't come, if the student doesn't come to school, they do the nagging and the nurturing. They call the parents. They're on them, because the biggest predictor of dropping out is actually just not showing up for school, not attending, like that young man in the second video that we saw.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. So, Kavitha, have you seen something that has worked in the D.C. area or do you have a story about a particular program that, you know, is starting to see initial benefits?
KAVITHA CARDOZA: They are trying different programs, and one is a high school which has set sort of staggered timings, so instead of all the kids coming in at, whatever, 7:30, 8:00 in the morning, some of the kids find it hard, but then maybe they will stagger it and have more evening classes or afternoon classes. Some of the kids have to work. Some of them have to look after the younger kids, you know, in the household. So they are trying to do that. They are trying auxiliary credits, where for the same amount of time, like you can earn more credits. They are trying summer school programs where kids, you know, who are just a few credits short, and if they don't make it, you know, they will kind of drop out or have to repeat the year, which, you know, the kids in 12th grade aren't going to do. Summer school, kind of last, you know, effort to get them. And last year 300 kids graduated that wouldn't have graduated. So they are definitely trying a lot of, a lot of, you know, programs. It's just—it is a big problem.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Khalis and Ingrid, are there things your friends have seen or you have seen in your schools or neighboring schools or the ones you have focused on in your stories, that you thought, wow, that's kind of innovative or that's ingenuitive, I didn't think of that, and anything that's having a positive impact?
And while they are thinking about it, if you want to come up with some questions, we'll open it up and try to get this conversation going, or if you are shy and you just want to tweet it, you can do that as well.
JOHN BRIDGELAND: In New Hampshire, I met with the principal of the school, and he said there's this great kid, and he was—he didn't find school interesting, and he was interested in the Chinese economy and wanted to learn Mandarin. And he was failing all his other courses. He wasn't showing up to class. And so we connected him to the University of New Hampshire through virtual, through technology. And so he takes Mandarin from the University of New Hampshire. And because the school made that effort and just made one connection to what he was interested in, he reengaged in his class, other classes, getting straight As, and went on to college. So they have created in New Hampshire and had tremendous success in reducing the dropout rate, an effort called Follow the Child, which connects young people—the first thing it does is, is identify the interest or series of interests they have, and then connect their curriculum to those interests, and I think that's a big part of the answer.
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Can I add to that? One of the things we do, whenever there's a budget problem is, we cut things like music, art, extra curriculum, well, sometimes, or very often, those are the reasons kids are coming to school. They're not coming, you know, to learn trigonometry or algebra, right, in a lot of cases. They're coming to meet their friends. They're coming for all this. Now, once you've got them in school, then you can say, oh, you know, still them classes or sometimes it's a requirement. Like with sports, if you keep your grades, you know, above a certain level, then you can play sports. So the problem is, when you take away all those extras, then very often the kids, you know, have no reason to come. You know, they can meet their friends in their neighborhood. Why do they need to come to school? So I think we really need to rethink that, and what do we cut, and what are the indirect kind of costs to the school. It's not just oh they won't be in choir or they won't be in band, it's like well, they might not show up, and then we have lost them.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Khalis, did you have something?
KHALIS MARSHALL: Yes. There were two things I wanted to touch on. One, while Ms. Ali was teaching at Bell, we had this amazing auditorium, with lights and everything, and two, two of the classes were that these are kids who are hands on with a lot of things, so during regular assemblies, the kids used to, we used to work the sound boards, the lights, and actually record all of our assemblies, in each one in a row. And after that, if we have enough experience, sometimes Bell rents out that space and other companies come in, and the student will be the one that has to like that could work the audio and sound board and make sure nothing goes wrong, and they get paid in that process, so there's a lot of innovation and stuff that comes in to that. And another program was the Street Law class that both me and Ingrid have been through, and through that class we —-
HARI SREENIVASAN: What is that?
KHALIS MARSHALL: Street Law is a class that where law students from Georgetown University come in, and it's either basically how to be, how to be lawyers. And during that, we had a mock trial, which we prepared for a case like we're actual lawyers, and get to go out to the courts and role play with other schools that are also in this program. And with that, one day there I would say there was, total there was about ten kids in that class, but prior to that, there was about, I would say it was ten, and I would say about 80 percent of the kids came all the time.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So they can get paid for arguing?
KHALIS MARSHALL: No. No.
KHALIS MARSHALL: This one, it wasn't getting paid for it, so.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Eventually, when they're lawyers. Ingrid?
INGRID CERON: Well, I guess also just the people there. And I guess also the classmates. Like for me personally, classmates, like me, to my friends, I guess this has been going on since ninth grade year, apparently I'm like the answer sheet, and I just know all the answers for my friends. And I think—it's true.
MALE SPEAKER: She used to be in my class. She got straight As.
INGRID CERON: And just, yeah. I usually have like friends coming to me and stuff, and...
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. So the peer influence is a big force.
INGRID CERON: Yeah, just peer influences. And like, since I usually help friends with just some stuff like in general, or just like people, like even if they don't know me, they just like come up to me. I'm a very friendly person. I can get along with everyone. I just usually help them out, like if they're struggling through a class, like I try to help them out, like, like with my best friend, we were in AP English, we would both -— well, we both agreed to get on each other's cases if we weren't doing a project, like continuously nagging one another to make sure we get this thing and get it done and we get it on time. And I think just -— yeah, just peer influences in general, like if you -— I guess if you know that the right people that you know are going to be successful, they can help you out through the process.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So Del, how do you combat that inverse, that that peer influence is so strong that those kids stay out of school or stay in trouble, essentially?
DEL McFADDEN: Like I said, I think providing that opportunity or putting that positive individual in the youth's life that he can connect to, relate to, I think that's, you know, extremely important. And I think a lot of our youth, because of the peer pressure and just, you know, youth—no one wants to be ostracized, and youth just wants this so important at these, in these years, that youth belong, belong, and membership is so important. And you really have to have a base or a foundation to hold on to in order to fight a lot of the, you know, peer influence. So those things are very important.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. Any questions? Yes.
MALE SPEAKER: I just wanted to make a comment, because I did work in the school, for DCPS school system three years, and during the reconstruction of the administration, I decided to resign in the middle of the school year. I wasn't fired. I decided that I would have a, do a better service to the students and the community not being in the school. And so I definitely understand what these kids talk about. In that three—year time period, there were 72 teachers. These kids had no idea who their teacher was going to be. Maybe the next semester or the next year. So there never a connection made. There was never that trust bond. There was never any value of consistency. DCPS has brought a lot of teachers in who don't understand the system, don't understand the community, scared of the kids, and this all starts in the home. We have high communities of dropouts in D.C., especially in the African—American community. So if your grandfather was a dropout, your dad was a dropout, what is the percentage of you being a dropout. And these are systematic things that could be changed in the city, but due to misallocation of funds, bureaucracy, we continue to go through this cycle where people come to the table and they talk about the issues, but nobody ever moves on the real issues.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Exactly. Yes.
MALE SPEAKER: A great job. The first video I saw, it didn't occur to me, actually, that it was no professional narrative until 45 seconds into it or something like that.
So thinking back on what you just said, I taught in Roanoke, Virginia, and I was a young teacher, and you were talking about all these new teachers. I'm wondering, it seems like the one group of people that we haven't talked about in any of this discussion are parents.
And I'm curious, you know, if you take teachers who have three preps, maybe they're a first—year teacher, they have three preps, and they have 35 kids a class and they have five sessions, and they're still -—and they're 22, are we, do you think it's fair to sort of put the solution on them, or is that just the easiest place to put it? And I'm really curious -—John?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: Yeah.
MALE SPEAKER: Have you seen any statistics, any kind of correlation that looks at dropouts and something measurable, something quantifiable, with, you know, with respect to, to families? And Del, I was wondering, you know, your organization is called Family Support Collaborative, can you speak to, kind of, how you all work with the families themselves?
JOHN BRIDGELAND: Maybe I'll just quickly go first and then over to Del. The evidence is overwhelming that engaged parents are, together with teachers, the second biggest influence in terms of success rates for student academic achievement across race, income, every, every, you know, demography. We actually did a survey with parents, and what we learned has sort of debunked the myth that low—income parents of students trapped in low—performing schools were the most likely to say that they saw the importance of not only high school graduation, but college for their child, and they were the most anxious to engage, but many were working one and two jobs, you know, couldn't show up for the parent—teacher conference.
And there are a lot of innovative programs, one in Kentucky, that does everything from homework hotlines. You can go online, you can see the curriculum, you can see the homework, you can get tools to help your child, to flexible conference schedules, to having one point of contact. A lot of the parents talk about how in middle school they felt welcome to go into the school, but the minute their child went into high school, it was like a hostile environment. They didn't feel welcome. They didn't feel like they could be part of, part of the solution. So I think we have to do a much better job.
We also interviewed teachers, and teachers told us these stories of how do you expect us to cope. We have students who are ready for AP. We have students who can't read on a third grade level, and we have students who are violent, and, you know, behavioral problems and mental health problems that haven't been treated, and you throw this whole mix into the pot, into my classroom, and we're supposed to cope. So I think it's a little -— anyway, a little comment on your question. Del.
DEL McFADDEN: Well, at Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative -— and I must say I'm glad that you asked that question. We work intensely with families, right? So one, one of the reasons that I work at the collaborative is a process that we have that's called FGC, which is a family group conference. We pull in the entire family. We'll pull in the pastor. We'll pull in the basketball coach. We'll pull in the dog.
DEL McFADDEN: And we, we do this through, through a strength—based approach. We believe that the family have all the answers. We're just a vehicle to get them from point A to point B.
And in this family group conference, depending on what the situation is and what we're dealing with, if it's safety or the child is about to be removed out of the home, or if it's a kid that's about to drop out, we'll have a meeting. And what happens is that we allow the family to come up with some solutions. We going to contract. And we look at the resources that we can provide and the things that we can do, and we look at what the family say they can do.
A lot of times, you have extended family members who would, under the circumstance of an FGC, they'll say okay, I'll pick, I'll make sure I call Bobby at seven o'clock in the morning to make sure he is ready for school. And there is a time where we actually walk out, and the family have what's called alone time. They come up with a solution. We'll go back, do a contract, look at it. If there are some things that we feel like won't be effective enough, we'll push back, and then come to some solutions on those things. But we involve everyone.
And one of the things, it's such a therapeutic process, I wish you guys could just experience it, because it's just incredible.
A lot of these families rarely sit down together, and you have newborn babies that people haven't seen, and, you know, they sit down, and sometime there is some argument or situations, but we try to get to the root cause and deal with those issues and work with the families. And like I said, what's so important is that lasting effect, that even when they're not there, through Solution Focus, that they can think in a manner where they can resolve their own issues. So it's not always us fixing the problem; it's training them to fish for themselves. And so we do very intense work. We check in weekly. We provide just a slough of different services, from rental assistance, if clothing is needed, if the utilities are cut off.
And I think that's one of the things people really don't understand. When you have a child who has to get up and go to school when there is no food in the refrigerator, you know, or there is no funds for a uniform or clothes, you know, it's just very important that those things be there, or the electricity. And what we found, we found that families, I don't know how they do it, I guess they're just survivors, we find a lot of things, and families can maneuver for a month or two without running water or electricity. You know, so when we find those things out, we definitely kick in and have a family group conference and see where we can assist that family and stabilize that family, and then can move on and be successful at life.
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: Just to add to that, I mean, I think that the question, which is about the, the role of one teacher, I think, I think any of the—what the research will tell you, what the solutions will tell you, is that there have to be, you know, one of the impressing things about what's happening, I think, in our education is a retreat very quickly away from any kind of parental and community engagement, and you see that around the country in terms of where the focal points of certainly of what's happening in, in the big cities, but, but I think at the national level as well.
But the, but the other point is, is that like none of this can be done with one teacher. If you look at any of the successful schools that work in, in communities that have, you know, that have a host of issues in terms of the students who are coming to them and, and their track record, the way you turn around those schools is there, there are school—based solutions, right, they are not teacher—based solutions, and they certainly can't be a 22 year old who is going to be there for two years and out, right?
And, and I think the, the notion that, that we focus on one piece of this as opposed to sort of the, the systemic questions are where we are going to, we're going to continue to fail in trying to, in trying to solve some of the questions. And we have -— and we do this all the time, and when you start to talk about my group, which is more in lawsuits, it's like well, what, what factor do you, you know, what factor do you want to blame it on? Is it the school? Is it the parent? Is it, is it -— you know, if, if you start down that route, we, we just, we're going to end up in a situation where we don't actually sort of I think address what is a whole bunch of interrelated processes. But certainly parental and community engagement.
And to your original question, which is, I was, I was talking to John that one of the things that always surprised me about the single leading—if you want to look at correlations, right, I think one of the single leading indicator of the dropout is the mother's education level, right? So the cycle that you're talking about, in terms of, you know, over and over again, is there, right, and, and how do you change that? People like that, right? So, but that's—or the one lasting impression of an, of an adult.
KHALIS MARSHALL: They had a principal before, and he was a male, and he said everything that was going on in the school was fine, but the principal interacted with all the students. He talked to them in the halls, went to them in person and in class. And there was a discrepancy between the principal and DCPS, so the principal had to leave, and with the new principal that came in, he said every student in that, in that entire building had basically changed, it's like, or the student had started rebelling against the school and the system because of the way this principal was handling that school. And he said everything was fine. They would have been, they would have been okay with the way they were before, but since the new principal came in and how the principal basically managed everybody in the whole school, it turned the whole mood down.
And I just want to reflect on that, because from my school, there was a difference between my principal and how she was from my first year and the three years after that. The first year she was the same way, but after that there was a lack of communication, and the teachers were, they, they were being more stressed, which more stressed out on us.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You guys have that in one of your stories, that the students are feeling a lot of the stress and pressure as well.
KHALIS MARSHALL: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So we'll take one more question here, and in the meantime, our guests, if you can just think of one sentence or a thought that you would like to leave the audience with. Sir.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Just to Del's point, and also Anurima, have you guys looked into educating parents as well that maybe didn't have a good education growing up, and if you do that and you marry with what the kids are going through, does that, do you find success in those type of situations, or has that been looked at?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: It's, it's certainly the ones that I think there are -— so from a Department of Justice perspective, which is the hat I have on today, we're not an expert at all in much of parents, but, but in previous hats I've had, I think that that's the, the engagement of parents, whether it be within school, but also trying to figure out how you create many supports, but there's a lot of, there's a lot of talk about—and, and these go to the models where you're, you're taking, you know, whether it be the Harlem Children's Zone Model where you're trying to figure out a lot of supports within a community, you know, those are all, those are all successful because they're addressing a host of issues, right, and across the board, within a, you know, within, and I think, I think there's, there's a lot of merit to that, right, because, and, and in engaging parents, you're helping them engage with their kids, right? So, you know, I'm sure Del has, you know, on the ground more, more experience that you've had on, on exactly that issue, but I think engaging parents is readily helpful.
DEL McFADDEN: Yeah. We have a program we ran for the last two years engaging the parents, and, you know, basically supporting them in the direction that they want to go. It may be employment or employment training, job training, or education, you know. So we, we support them and see that that does increase the success of the family, and it, it changes some of the behaviors and ideals of the youth as well, because they see that, they see that success or those situations. So, you know, really, really supporting and trying to get parents on track in a way that's, that's beneficial to them, because it's, it's nothing like seeing that success in a family overcoming so many different obstacles. But, you know, when they're, when they're successful, and then just a global view and perspective of the world, behaviors do change, and I just think that's powerful.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. So if you have other questions, you are welcome to approach to panel after we kind of release them from this, but coming down the line here, coming to a thought or a sentence or something that you would like to leave the panel with?
KAVITHA CARDOZA: Just real quick, I think it's way bigger than just the schools. I mean, we talked parents and teachers, and I think it's much bigger. It's like businesses when -— it's not -— you don't just drop out one day, right, it's a process, and the first few signs are when they are truant and where are they going. I mean, around the corner from where I work, you go to the Starbucks. I was doing a story on truancy, and someone said, oh, just go to the Starbucks, sure enough, 20 kids, and they're telling me, you know, the strategies they use to, you know. So I think it's like, it's businesses, it's people who don't have kids in schools, but are, you know, have something to offer. I think it's a way bigger issue about how do we, you know, as a society, because the ramifications of kids who drop out, you know, are going to be felt society—wide. So I, I think when I do my series, that's what I am hoping, like what will be a big picture.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay.
JOHN BRIDGELAND: I'll follow on that, the ramifications. So in addition to, when you have one—fourth of all public high school students and 40 percent of African—Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans dropping out from high school every year, which is more than a million young people, coming into our system, and 40 percent are idle, they're out of school and they're out of, out of work, and the societal costs, unemployment, the incarceration, and health care costs, the intergenerational effects of dropouts that in turn go on to have children who drop out of school, the economic effects. If we were to cut the dropout rate in half, we would save the country $45 billion a year.
So we have literally produced a civic commercial plan index for every governor in the country who is facing the fiscal crisis that says if you were to cut the dropout rate by a third, it will save your state, you know, $250 million. It's sort of waking up policy makers to the fact that we have to address this challenge.
Finally, the president has said when you drop out of high school, you not only give up on yourself, you give up on your country, and there is research that shows that dropouts disproportionately don't vote, they don't volunteer, they don't participate in community solutions or projects; literally, they are missing from even the civic life of our country, so the democratic effects are enormous.
KHALIS MARSHALL: College funds. And there's, really the main reason I say that because, I would say that almost every graduate from Bell from the last two to three years has mainly stayed in this community. Others have gone to college, but I would say 90 percent of them have come back because of financial issues. And the thing about most of us, we already know what we're going to do. We know where we want to go, but it's just the fact of going there is astronomical. Like for instance, me, the university I want to go to costs $75,000.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Isn't there a Groupon for that?
ANURIMA BHARGAVA: So, since John took a lot of what I was about to say, the one thing, just on what we—so there's a lot of focus on accountability of schools, and I think one of the, the strange conversations about that is that we talk about tests and how people are graded on tests all the time, but in the situation in which like 40 percent of kids or 60 percent of kids or in some situations, 75 percent of kids there is not even a classroom, we're, we're testing one quarter of the kids who are actually supposed to be there, right, and so I don't know what test scores tell you if they're not -— if we're not actually thinking about the fact that we have accountability for the other kids who are not in that classroom. So when we're thinking about accountability or teacher effectiveness, all of those measures should not only look at test scores, they should look at whether or not we're actually keeping kids in the classroom, very simply. So I would keep, that would be my last, accountability.
INGRID CERON: I had something and I forget.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay. We'll come back to you. Del?
DEL McFADDEN: What comes to mind for me, I remember when I had a position at a level five school, emotionally—disturbed school, youth with learning disabilities, and I was like ten years younger, and I started working in this school, and I had all of these ideas, and I was very happy about the work that I was doing. And I recall, I challenged a lot of things in those schools because I felt like a lot of things weren't going in the direction they should, you know, weren't really a benefit the youth there. And so, you know, I got written up a lot because of my mouth.
DEL McFADDEN: And one of the staff, you know, pulled me aside and said why do you care so much? Like these folks don't care what you say. Like this is just how they treat these kids. Like why don't you just shut up and pay your bills. And then, you know, I sit there, and I said, I said, if I just want to pay my bills, then why, why would I go through this? Like this is pain and suffering. Like why would I do this? I'll go back to school and finish my degree in computers and make some money to pay my bills. But I'm here doing this work as a—this is a mission. Like this is my reason why I exist, is doing this work.
And I think a lot of times is -— what comes to mind to me is just the defeating mentality. You know, if teachers and principals and residents and people just having the defeating mentality, then we have a lot of work ahead of us. I remember doing work in certain communities where I went door to door, and, you know, doing community capacity building, and folks said, young man, you're not going to change anything. We have done this before and there were no outcomes. You know, and as long as we stay lethargic with that thinking, we won't change it.
So to me, we have to set the standard for the expectation. If it's a free fall, then what you'll have what you have in a lot of these schools. You know, and Khalis and I talk about it a lot, and he beats me up, and Del, what are we going to do about A, B, and C, in meetings, you know, and, and just really looking at those things and holding people accountable. You know, you can go in any school, go in any, any high school in D.C. and just kind melt in the corner and see what you experience, and you will know exactly why things are the way that they are.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Our former community organizers have done fairly well. Ingrid?
INGRID CERON: I guess when it comes down to it, I wish that more parents were involved in what happens with their kids during school, or when it comes down to it, they want to be involved, but like from my parents, in my case, she can't speak English very well. Like my dad's side of the family—I'm sorry—like they're all fluent in English, all my cousins, like all in college or about to graduate. Like, basically, in my family, on my dad's side of the family, at least, whom I've bonded with the most, like I can, I feel like I have like a whole support system with me so that I can achieve, but whereas like with my mom's side of the family and with like many of my friends' families, like their parents don't know English, so like they can't really be involved in much stuff, and like -— I just had my thought and I lost it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: That's good. I think those are pretty good thoughts already.
o in conclusion, thanks to the People Production House, NewsHour Extra, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the people who give us the space here, the Radio Rootz folks, and all of our panelists, thank you very much, and have a great night.
Taped Wednesday, June 22, 2011, hosted by Leigh Ann Caldwell, Producer for C-SPAN, and DC Director of Radio Rootz/People’s Production House, Leah Clapman, Managing Editor, Education, PBS NewsHour.
Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour
In December 2009 Hari Sreenivasan joined the new PBS NewsHour as an online and on-air correspondent. While at CBS News, Hari reported regularly on the "CBS Evening News," "The Early Show;" and "CBS Sunday Morning." Before that, he served as an anchor and correspondent for ABC News, working extensively on the network's 24-hour digital service "ABC News Now." Hari also reported for "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings", "Nightline," and anchored the overnight program World News Now. Previously, he ran his own production company and freelanced as a reporter for KTVU-TV in Oakland, Calif. (2002-04). Sreenivasan served as an anchor and senior correspondent for CNET Broadcast in San Francisco, Calif. (1996-2002) and was a reporter for WNCN-TV in Raleigh, N.C. (1995-96). He is the recipient of multiple Outstanding Broadcast Story Awards from the South Asian Journalists Association, an organization for which he served as a board member from 2001-04.
Anurima Bhargava, Chief, Educational Opportunities Section, Civil Rights Division at Department of Justice
Before joining the Department of Justice, Anurima Bhargava was the Director of the Education Practice at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF) where she engaged in litigation and advocacy to expand educational access and opportunity for students of color. Prior to joining LDF, Anurima worked as a staff attorney at the New York City Department of Education and clerked in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises
John Bridgeland’s work on the high school dropout crisis helped bring national attention to the issue, with the TIME cover story “Dropout Nation” and two Oprah Winfrey shows prompted by his report, The Silent Epidemic. Bridgeland is also Vice Chairman of Malaria No More, a non-profit launched at the White House Summit on Malaria that is bringing new resources, advocacy and grassroots support to ending malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. Bridgeland also was a leader in ServiceNation, a presidential forum with Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and a summit that showcased a 10-point plan to increase community, national and international service opportunities, which informed the Serve America Act by Senators Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, signed into law in 2009. Bridgeland was recently appointed by President Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions and was previously Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush.
Kavitha Cardoza, Senior Reporter, WAMU Public Radio
Kavitha joined the WAMU 88.5 local news team in April 2008 after working for almost six years as a reporter/anchor at the public radio station of the University of Illinois at Springfield. Kavitha holds an M.S. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, an M.S. in Communication from the Manipal Institute of Communication in India. She has won numerous awards for her work in journalism, including most recently a 2010 Special Citation in the Education Writers Association’s National Awards for Education Reporting contest.
Del McFadden, Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative
Del McFadden has worked with at risk youth who are involved in gang/crew violence first as a youth outreach worker from 2007 to 2009, and later as a coordinator in the US Department of Justice funded “Weed and Seed” Strategy with the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative. Del’s day to day work brings him into contact with gang-involved youth who are very suspicious of adults and others they do not know. Del has been trained extensively in Solution Focused Brief Therapy and uses it to both win the confidence of these young people and to defuse critical situations that can lead to outbreaks of gang violence. A significant part of Del’s time is spent training others using the Gang Intervention Partnership model, including multiday training sessions for law enforcement and community partners from Seattle, Virginia, Georgia, Denmark, and France. Del was born and raised in Washington DC, and has attended Southeastern University, Washington DC for post-secondary education. He has 14 years of youth services work and received numerous awards from CSOSA, and other partner agencies.
Khalis, age 19, is a graduate from Columbia Height Educational Campus in Washington D.C.; he is also a Youth Program Associate at People’s Production House where he teaches media production and literacy to youth. Over the Last two years he has worked on an audio documentary feature that was aired over the radio and a video short broadcast through PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs. Khalis’ interest in media and film was jumpstarted when he saw a sci-fi made by Steven Spielberg; since this time he has been “pursuing the untapped potential in the world of film and movie making.”
Rising senior at Bell Multicultural High School and Radio Rootz reporter.