Reversing Mississippi’s unacceptably high dropout rate is a daunting challenge. No one thought it would be easy when state education, business and political leaders began to place increased emphasis on the problem several years ago.
That the process will require a lengthy and sustained effort became even clearer with the release last week of the most recent graduation and dropout rates.
The state as a whole went in the wrong direction with the class of 2009, which had a dropout rate of 16.7 percent. That’s a slight increase from the 16 percent of the year before, though still better than the 17.6 percent of three years ago when the current calculation system was first used.
More troubling was that 10 school districts in Northeast Mississippi – including Tupelo and Lee County – had higher dropout rates than the state average, though the trend line in some of the region’s districts includes some bright spots.
Overall, it’s clear from the data that significant improvement will be tough, and that it isn’t likely to come in a year or two.
The schools must shoulder much of the responsibility, of course. All are now required to have dropout prevention programs in place, and there are some innovative ones out there.
But as has been said many times since the dropout issue took center stage, this is not a school problem, it’s a community problem. It will take the persistent and sustained efforts of all sectors of the community to turn the dropout culture around.
It begins in the homes with parents who emphasize the value of education. It requires the efforts of churches and civic organizations, as well as the business community. It requires individuals willing to step up and give their time in mentoring programs and other volunteer efforts to salvage the educational careers, and thus the life prospects, of one young person at a time, and to get those who have left school back in or on course for a GED.
Northeast Mississippi’s annual Dropout Prevention Summit, organized by the CREATE Foundation, helps highlight best practices for dropout prevention and recovery. Many Northeast Mississippians are involved in intentional efforts within their schools and communities to keep kids in school.
It’s everybody’s problem because no community in this region or state will reach its full potential unless all of its children are sufficiently educated to reach theirs. An undereducated population is an economic and social drag on job creation and quality of life in Northeast Mississippi.
Data that show slow progress should encourage, not discourage, ongoing efforts. Like any other problem rooted in the culture, this one will take time to effectively address, and there’s no time to waste.
NEMS Daily Journal