Young Democrats of Wisconsin
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100% High School Graduation Rate by Kelsey Morin

Summary:

The issue I’d like to present is a higher high school graduation rate.  Specifically, higher the graduation rate to be not only first in the country but have a statewide graduation of 100%.  This will be achieved by lowering the teen pregnancy rate for females and by increasing the attendance level for male and female students.  Right now, Wisconsin graduates about 87%of our students, but only around 65% of our ESL and 70% of our low-income students.[1]  The large culprit for lower graduation rates among those groups is absenteeism, in part due to teen pregnancy.

While Wisconsin ranks 44 out of 51 (50 states and DC) for the lowest rate of teen pregnancy, Wisconsin still has over 4,000 teen pregnancies in 2011.[2]  Overall, Wisconsin may rank low, but in Milwaukee, the rate of teen pregnancy was second only to Philadelphia in 2011-2012 for the entire country.  The teen pregnancy rate leads not only to higher absenteeism, but also to higher high school drop out rates and lower graduation rates.  Teen mothers are often absent because of physical needs, the necessity for maternity leave, attendance at doctors’ appointments, and the like.  As a result, teen moms miss more school, and often times end up dropping out instead of finishing high school.  Only 40% of teen mothers across the country finish high school, compared to 81% of students who are not teen parents.[3]

For male students, abstenteeism is one of the leading causes for falling behind, which then leads to repeating grades or lower self-esteem and confidence in school, which heightens the dropout rate.[4]  In Wisconsin, there is legislation for compulsory school attendance, and if a student does not attend, the parents are notified.  However, if parents are absent themselves, then there is no way for the compulsory education policies to actually be fulfilled.  In Madison high schools, 1 in 4 African American high school children is chronically absent, higher than any other group.[5]  Obviously, even with the legislation in place, absenteeism among the group most likely to become high school dropouts is rampant.

Recommendations:

This endeavor has many potential solutions.  To combat low graduation rates because of teen pregnancy and male absenteeism, more comprehensive sex education is necessary, along with better afterschool programming, and offering online educational programs.

Comprehensive Sex-Education

Teen pregnancy almost requires a teen mom, and sometimes a teen dad, to miss school, often times resulting in getting behind and ultimately dropping out.  Teen mom’s require rest, time to breast feed, time to care for the child, while teen dad’s often feel pressured to get a job and make money for the child, putting educational needs on the back burner.  One important solution is to implement more comprehensive sex-education programs in high school.

Abstinence only programs prove to be less effective than safe-sex initiatives.  Texas, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, adheres to a state-wide abstinence-only educational program.[6]  California, on the other hand, boasts a large decline in teen birth rates from 71% to 29% since the implementation of a state-wide comprehensive sex education program.[7]  

Currently, Wisconsin education requires an emphasis on abstinence.  In fact, in 2012, Wisconsin repealed a law that provided for more comprehensive sex education, the Healthy Youth Act.[8]   However, study after study suggests that comprehensive education, not abstinence-only programs, would lower the teen birth rate, and it is important that Wisconsin take full advantage of the federally funded grants that allow for more comprehensive education. 

Most high school students are required to take a health class already, making an addition to the curriculum more cost effective than adding a whole new class—and grants would make the cost of this programming even cheaper for states like Wisconsin.  Children need to learn how to be safe while having sex, how to access and properly use birth control, how to put on a condom or use another form of contraception, along with how to learn respect for your partner and the ability to say no.  None of these things happen in abstinence only programming, which means that teens who do choose to have sex are often times ‘doing it blind.’  The good news with comprehensive education is that it has never heightened the level of teen pregnancies, so the implementation of this program would be cost-effective and low-risk.

            Afterschool Programming

Considering comprehensive sex education alone does not solve the problem, lowering birth rates and fixing abstenteeism can be done through better after school programming.  Programming needs to extend beyond athletics, and needs to include music, arts, tutoring, independency training (job training, mock interviews, resume writing, financial planning).  After school programming gives teens an alternative option to sitting at home and ‘getting in trouble.’  It also gives students a reason to go to school—if they are not at school to do the work, they cannot stay for the fun stuff. 

The benefits of afterschool programming are amazing.  Students who participate in after school programming will have higher self-esteem, higher grades, more incentive to attend college or technical school, stronger relationships with peers, reduced drug use, better school attendance, and lower birth rates. [9] 

The investment in after school programming is necessary and smart.  Many schools, unfortunately, have cut these types of programming because they are expensive.  However, there are grants are available through the federal government, and different groups like AmeriCorps that would send volunteers to run programming if the extent of the benefits were known. Any money spent on these programs will have a return that is tenfold the investment—not only for the children participating, but for society.  The social benefit and economic benefits to having well-educated teens and productive members of society is priceless.

Online Educational Programming

Finally, for those teens who do still get pregnant and those who are not helped by either of the previous suggestions for combating absenteeism, online courses must be offered in order to correct these problems.  The virtual school in Wisconsin is a supplemental online course provider, so that students can still attend school, but will not fall behind if there is a problem with attendance.  For example, in Reedsburg schools, a student who takes online classes can ‘test’ out of a unit by passing a chapter test, which allows the student to work at a faster pace.  If a student does not pass the chapter test or decides not to take the chapter test right away, they must work through and complete each online lesson in order to take the test. 

Currently, most online programs require students to be recommended for the program, which requires teachers to be aware of attendance records and the needs of each student.  Teen pregnancy will be a pretty easy indicator of needing online course.  Students can work at their own pace while staying up on all course work if they are at home.  

Online educational programs offer another style of learning that may be better suited to those who have greater immediate needs than school, or in the case of students who fall behind.  Those who fall behind are often times more absent, even if they are physically in class—they feel dumb for being behind, fail to have the requisite knowledge to successfully move forward, leaving them less likely to ever catch up to the rest of the class and more likely to skip the classes.  Online education allows these students to catch up without feeling dumb, it allows for students who learn at a slower pace the ability to do so, it allows for students who need to repeat a specific area of practice to have that chance. 

Results: 

The project has two steps to measure; one being absenteeism and teen pregnancy rate, and the other is graduation rate.  Considering there are other factors that affect graduation rate, the results might not be immediate.  However, the graduation rate should go up if the absentee rate goes down, and the teen pregnancy rate goes down.  It will be the first step in reaching the ultimate goal of achieving a perfect graduation rate.  For there to be measurable progress with my two specific goals, the graduation rate should go up, at which point different tactics can be implemented to combat different issues, which will make the graduation rate rise even more.

 

[1] Richards, Erin. “Wisconsin High School Graduation Rate Rises to 87.5%.” http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/202024041.html

[2] “Wisconsin Adolescent Reproductive Health Facts.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/states/wi.html

[3] “Not Making the Grade: Academic Achievement Difficult for Teen Parents.”  Postcard: Teen Pregnancy Affects Graduation Rates. National Conference of State Legislatures.

[4] Folger, Jean. “the Causes And Costs of Absenteeism.” Investopedia. July 2013. http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/070513/causes-and-costs-absenteeism.asp.

[5] DeFour, Matthew. “In Madison high schools, 1 in 4 black students chronically absent.” Wisconsin State Journal, 2012. http://host.madison.com/news/local/education/local_schools/in-madison-high-schools-in-black-students-chronically-absent/article_f1997bb4-4b7e-11e2-86e8-0019bb2963f4.html

[6] Culp-Ressler, Tara. “Texas Tries to Combat Teen Pregnancy With Abstinence-Only Website That Doesn’t Mention Birth Control.” Think Progress. September 2013. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/09/27/2690281/texas-abstinence-website/

[7]“Check the Numbers: Abstinence-Only Education Policies Are Failing Texas Families.” TFN Insider. July 2013. http://tfninsider.org/2013/07/24/check-the-numbers-abstinence-only-education-policies-are-failing-texas-families/.

[8]Sleznikow, Hannah. “Wisconsin Must Return to Comprehensive Sex Education.” Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-badger-herald/wis-must-return-to-compre_b_1358118.html

[9]“The Benefit of After School Programs.”  Healthy City Advancement Project. 2012.  http://www.advancementprojectca.org/sites/default/files/imce/Benefits%20of%20After%20School%20Programs%20-%20handout.pdf

Luke Fuszard