Published on Bostinno.com
February 23, 2013
Educators are working harder than ever to improve graduation rates, however, the current, century-old educational structure is a major part of the problem.
As someone who has worked in education since 1973 as a teacher, school superintendent, state commissioner, and having led high school reform grant deployment at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it’s frustrating to see new data proclaiming that the U.S. high school graduation rate has reached a 35-year high of 78.2 percent. While it is certainly a step in the right direction that this figure jumped 2.7 percentage points from 2009 to 2010, according to a study released last month by the National Center for Education Statistics, a graduation rate of 78.2 percent hardly seems like something to celebrate.
Massachusetts, which has a rate above the average at 82.6 percent, still has a long way to go before all of its high school students earn their diplomas. According to a report by theOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. once had the highest graduation rates of any developed country, but it has slipped down the ranks to 22 out of 27. America, the land of opportunity and innovation, can’t put hope for the future in an outdated educational system that lags behind its international peers. How can we change these statistics? How can we engage our high school students, decrease the dropout rate and ensure our students complete their high school education?
While there’s no silver bullet to the dropout crisis, there are steps we can take to increase the high school graduation rate. Most importantly, we need to value learning outside the traditional classroom along with self-learning. Digital learning tools work to engage students by playing to their schedules and strengths, offering them the freedom to choose the subjects and study times that appeal to and work for them the most. It may seem odd to propose online learning as a means of preventing high school students from dropping out, but a studyconducted for the Department of Education found, on average, students completing some or all coursework online outperformed those who were only being educated in the traditional classroom setting.
Why might this be the case, and why might online learning be a viable alternative for high school students considering dropping out? Online learning has two advantages over a traditional classroom-based approach: it is personalized and flexible.
Penn Foster High School, the largest high school system in the country, advocates this personalized approach for our students, who are in need of a more customized education to engage them in the learning process. Our students range from a parent who hasn’t taken classes in decades to an at-risk high school student, so the one-size-fits-all model used by traditional education institutions does not apply. Instead, students learn at their own pace, through ongoing learning dashboards and readiness assessments, ensuring all students have the tools necessary to succeed not just in school, but in life.
Ray McNulty is the chief learning officer at Penn Foster.