If students are failing, so are we

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By The Staff

THE ISSUE: Florida Department of Education reports declines in graduation rates at county’s high schools.
OUR OPINION: A black eye for schools, but a gut punch for the community.

While the county’s schools continue to deliver an education worthy of an ‘A,’ fewer students are sticking around to get one.

Florida’s Department of Education released the preliminary results of its annual assessment of state schools in late December, and its findings are troubling: Overall, the district received an ‘A,’ but at least one high school’s grade was lowered due to paltry graduation rates for at-risk students, and three posted losses in that category. The FDOE assessment grades schools on performance, learning gains, testing participation and, for high schools, graduation rates.

The news is not all bad: The county’s high schools are still beating the state average of 71 percent in overall graduation rates, with 82 percent, 76 percent and 86 percent of students graduating from Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto high schools, respectively. There’s a glare to the silver lining, though: Those figures represent declines for two of the schools. In 2011, those respective rates were 83 percent, 83 percent and 80 percent.

The four-year figures for at-risk students are far worse. Citrus saw its four-year at-risk graduation rate drop to 57 percent from 63 percent in 2011, Crystal River dipped from 70 percent to 59 percent, and Lecanto fell from 59 percent to 56 percent.

The FDOE assessment just provides the whos, whats, whens and wheres; it doesn’t address the whys. But a 2012 survey of high school dropouts by Harris Interactive found nearly a quarter cited an absence of parental support as their reason for quitting school, while just over a fifth cited parental responsibilities. Seventeen percent said they’d missed too many days to finish, and another 15 percent said they gave up because of bad grades.

For many who drop out, poverty awaits. Per the most recent available U.S. Census data, nearly a third — 30.8 percent — of dropouts age 18 to 24 live under the poverty line. Graduate from high school and that figure drops to just under a quarter at 23.7 percent. High school grads also have a better shot at staying out of poverty: On average, dropouts earn $20,241 a year, while graduates average $30,627.

A community cannot flourish if its youth is faltering. A study of various government data by researchers at Northeastern University found dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24 were more than six times as likely to see the inside of a jail — and, later, a prison — as their peers who graduated, and calculated the average dropout costs the public $292,000 in incarceration costs and depressed tax revenues.

Grades aside, anyone with a stake in Citrus County should be concerned with the figures. They may be a black eye for local high schools, but schools will fall short. It’s up to the community to support its students when parents are unwilling or unable, and up to students to make sensible decisions regarding the courses their lives will take.