Dropout rates — Suffolk’s shame

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, October 1, 2015

It’s time for Suffolk Public Schools to recognize that something’s broken and take the necessary steps to fix it.

With the state’s release of statistics on Tuesday showing that the school division has lost ground on both on-time graduation and dropout prevention, it’s hard to argue that there’s anything but a crisis afoot in Suffolk.

The division’s on-time graduate rate fell slightly from 86.4 to 86.2. The dropout rate rose from 8.8 to 9.5. The rates compare unfavorably to statewide measures of the same data. The commonwealth as a whole currently graduates better than 90 percent of its students on time, losing just 5.2 percent of them as dropouts.

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There was slight good news for Suffolk in the state report: King’s Fork High School improved its on-time graduation rate by three percentage points, to 87.7 and its dropout rate from 10.7 to 9. But Nansemond River and Lakeland worsened in both measures, with Lakeland counting a whopping 13.1 percent of its student population as dropouts.

What these figures mean is that nearly one in 10 Suffolk students will leave school without a diploma. For students in the Lakeland attendance zone, the number of dropouts climbs to more than one in eight.

School administrators often point out the failings of standardized tests as a measure of student success, and their points are largely valid. The frequency of testing and the tests’ failure to account for socioeconomic factors make those tests a rough indicator, at best, of what transpires within the walls of schools.

But dropout rates, especially, are a telling statistic. Dropout rates are a solid indicator of the number of high school students who will face the harsh reality of low-paying careers spent performing unskilled labor. Dropout rates indicate the percentage of young people who are likely to be a drain on the social system, rather than contributors to it.

The fact that Suffolk’s dropout rate is nearly twice that of the rest of the commonwealth is something that should bring shame to those elected and appointed officials charged with building a solid system of public education in this city.

Suffolk’s high rate of dropouts and its comparatively low rate of on-time graduation are two huge red flags for companies considering locating new facilities in the area. Until the city can get those statistics under control, they are likely to be among the primary limiting factors in Suffolk’s economic development.