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Improving the David Douglas School District Graduation Rate

Too often, students and families are blamed for educational disparities within their respective populations. We are told that children are failing because of their socio-economic status, their race, their cultural background, their parents’ education level, or due to some other social issue. Suggesting that educational disparities emerge because students tend to be lower income or have parents with little education misses the point. This framing suggests that students can’t learn because they are poor, or because they have parents with barriers to involvement, or because they don’t come from the dominant culture—not that the system is failing them.

The reality is that school districts make policy and program decisions that may not work for all students. We need to implement innovative solutions across our district that go against the dominant paradigm that a child’s economic or social status automatically determines that child’s success. At the same time, we need to be very honest about disparities where they do exist to ensure our interventions target the right kids.

For example, suspension rates for DDSD largely mirror our student body demographics. The proportion of suspensions correlates very closely to the percentage of students who are White, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, and Native American. One stark difference, however, is that African-American/Black students experience suspensions at twice their percentage of population. This should be a huge red flag to district leaders, as we know that school discipline is a key indicator of future involvement in the criminal justice system (where young men of color are already disproportionately represented). Rather than blame children and their families, the district needs to examine root causes of the disparity in suspensions and target interventions that work for African-American/Black children and families.

Another example emerges when considering the students who are dropping out or failing to complete high school. In our district, these students are disproportionately Caucasian males. Latinas, Native Americans, and African-American/Black girls are over-represented in teen pregnancy data. Programs and services should be responsive and tailored to these groups. 

We can increase the David Douglas School District graduation rate by:

  • Emphasizing personalized learning
  • Establishing district-wide tutoring and mentoring programs
  • Utilizing greater community-based partnerships
  • Employing better early intervention methodology
  • Increasing the use of technology in teaching and learning, and
  • Instituting specific programs targeted to at-risk populations.

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