Middle School Moment, a new Dropout Nation segment from FRONTLINE, argues that middle school is the key predictor of a student’s future success. Dr. Robert Balfanz (research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University and associate director of the Talent Development Middle and High School Project) believes that a series of three indicators mark whether students will drop out in high school:
If a sixth grade student attends less than 80% of school, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade, OR fails either English or math, his/her potential success in high school is bleak–75% of these students will eventually drop out of school.
But some schools are defying these odds. M.S. 244 in the Bronx was featured in Middle School Moment for its success in using dramatic interventions to (1) identify students who have fallen off track and (2) intervene swiftly and forcefully. Using student data organized into a color-coded “stoplight” system, the school looks at trends in attendance, behavior, and grades that enable staff to take quick and creative action. In order to meet students’ needs, Principal Dolores Peterson had the flexibility to reallocate resources to expand the school day, hire additional counseling staff, and implement a strong school culture including uniforms and discipline policy.
Sound familiar? Looks like at least some of our 3 Cs are present in this school! As a result, the school is seeing a dramatic reduction in the number of students considered severely off-track and has been selected to be an “anchor school” in the NYC’s Middle School Quality Initiative.
M.S. 244’s story reminds us that the high school dropout crisis doesn’t start in 9th grade. Turnaround strategies must smartly target students across K-12 and give schools the flexible conditions to devise interventions in those grades where students are most likely to fall of track.
-Hillary Harper, Project Coordinator
Mass Insight Education, The School Turnaround Group