The Dropout Crisis: How Catapult Learning Can Help

As Catapult Learning heads into another back-to-school season, we will once again have the opportunity to help almost 100,000 students Achieve Beyond Expectations.  Through our research-based programs taught by our talented instructional team, we will positively impact the lives of thousands of students who are struggling with reading and math.  We will likewise have a tremendously positive impact through our talented support specialists and supervisory team.  A founding principal of both Catapult Learning and NESI is that education should be equitably available to all children.

However, not all children receive equitable educational opportunities.  As Chairman of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network at Clemson University, I am all too familiar with the unfortunate statistics surrounding what amounts to a true national crisis –only 7 in 10 students graduate from high school.  According to the EPE Research Center, 1.2 million students from this year’s high school class will not graduate with a diploma.  That amounts to more than 7,000 students daily.  Imagine 100 school buses per day rolling out of school parking lots, filled with students who will never return for another day of school.  It’s certainly not the dream these students, their parents, and their teachers had for them when they entered school as bright-eyed Kindergarteners, eager to read and learn.

Of course, the true impact of the national graduation rate problem does not end along with the act of dropping out; rather, it usually lasts a lifetime.  High school dropouts can expect to earn $250,000 less than graduates over the course of their lives.  According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, this year’s dropouts will ultimately cost our nation an additional $17 billion in healthcare related costs, as dropouts with lower employment and income prospects statistically have poorer health.  Also, only a third of American prison inmates graduated from high school.  National studies have estimated that every additional 1% increase in annual graduation rate would save more than $1 billion in incarceration related costs.

The national dropout crisis has no regard for the achievement gap either, as the divide between minority students’ performance is widening relative to national benchmarks.  In terms of graduation rates, minority groups underperform national averages, with only 56 percent of Hispanic, 54 percent of African American, and 51 percent of Native American students graduating on time.

At Catapult Learning, these data points make our mission all the more critical.  We know a lot about these students before they actually do drop out.  Among the key indicators that are the best early predictors of dropping out are poverty, low reading level, and poor general academic performance. These are certainly the risk factors that we often see among the students in our programs.  However, while these risk factors stack the odds against student success, they certainly are not insurmountable.  The National Dropout Prevention Center publishes fifteen core research-based strategies to help prevent dropouts.  Catapult Learning knows many of these strategies well including: 1) Safe Learning Environments, 2) Early Interventions, 3) Extended Learning, and 4) Professional Development.

  • Strategy #1 – Safe Learning Environments:  Catapult Learning creates safe learning environments for its students in which distractions are minimized and learning outcomes are maximized.  A safe learning environment provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere that fosters a spirit of acceptance and caring, in which behavioral expectations are clearly communicated and consistently applied.  Students know what is expected of them.  The learning environment is free of conflict and bullying.  Often classroom teachers not only instruct, but provide mentorship, which is another highly effective dropout prevention strategy.
  •  Strategy #2 – Early Interventions:  We provide early interventions in Early Childhood Education, Early Literacy Development, and Family Engagement, all among the fifteen research-based dropout prevention strategies.  Our early childhood programs help prove out what policymakers know – that every dollar invested in high quality early childhood education results in a thirteen dollar return in preventative costs associated with school dropout and incarceration.  Catapult Learning’s early literacy interventions help to close the third grade reading gap with at-risk students, a highly predictive indicator of graduation rates.  Our Family Connections program engages parents in the student learning process, resulting in more positive attitudes towards school.
  • Strategy #3 – Extended Learning:  We provide research-based and highly effective intensive and extended learning strategies that have been proven to improve graduation rates.   Individualized intensive learning experiences, including tutoring and small group instruction, help teachers recognize and build upon each child’s unique past experiences and prior knowledge.  Extended learning strategies, such as after and summer school instruction, have been effectively deployed in several recent Catapult Learning implementations such as Detroit, New York City, Boston, and Polk County, FL.
  • Strategy #4 – Professional Development:  Our professional development programs help build sustainable capacity with teachers and school leaders.  A 1998 study by Bill Sanders found that the single largest factor affecting the academic growth of students is the difference in the effectiveness of individual classroom teachers.  Catapult Learning’s professional development offerings in the common core, data utilization, and STEM focus upon the most pressing issues that face our schools today.  Last year, we strengthened our commitment to sustainable job-embedded professional development with the acquisition of Literacy First.

So while at Catapult Learning, we don’t necessarily think about graduation rates every day, we are certainly implementing proven dropout prevention strategies in all of our classrooms and schools.  In this regard, we are helping to conquer a serious crisis in America.  Thank you for all that you do in helping our students Achieve Beyond Expectations.

Stuart Udell joined Catapult Learning as our President and CEO from The Princeton Review, where he served as President of Post Secondary Education. He also served as CEO of Penn Foster, a global leader in career-focused online learning, until December 2009, at which time the company was acquired by The Princeton Review. Prior to joining Penn Foster, Stuart spent ten years with Kaplan, Inc., most recently as President of its K-12 division. In addition, Stuart currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (Clemson University), a position he’s held since 2009.

1 Comment

  1. Sarah October 12, 2012 Reply

    Mr. Udell,
    Do you track the success of those students that attend your summer school programs, as opposed to students who do receive your assistance throughout the year and those students who do not receive your support services at all? As well, where would one locate the Bill Sanders study? Thank you, Sarah

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