ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s public high school dropout rate has hit the lowest point in a decade, according to data recently released by the Maryland education department.
Only 3.69 percent of Maryland high school students quit during the 2001- 2002 school year, down from 5.36 percent during 1992-1993, according to data released late last month.
Nationally, 4.8 percent of 10th- through 12th-graders dropped out of school during the 1999-2000 school year, most recent United States Department of Education data shows.
For years the Maryland State Department of Education has been “trying to make the high school diploma mean a little more,” said spokesman Bill Reinhard. With the economy struggling, students realize they need a strong educational background to get a well-paying job, he said.
“As the economy gets tighter . . . jobs are less plentiful,” Reinhard said. “I think high-schoolers recognize the importance of a strong credential on their record.”
Dropout rates in the troubled Baltimore and Prince George’s County districts have steadily declined over the past 10 years.
Baltimore’s rate, which was 18.53 percent in 1993, is now 10.32 percent. Prince George’s County declined from 4.29 percent a decade ago to 2.85 percent.
Just in the past year, 13 of Maryland’s 24 public school systems recorded a declining number of dropouts: Baltimore County, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Talbot, Washington and Worcester Counties, plus Baltimore.
More intensive programs targeting troubled teens, such as those in St. Mary’s County, get part of the credit from educators for the improvement. Kathleen Lyon, St. Mary’s County schools pupil services director, attributes the county’s decreasing dropout rate – from 4.16 percent in 1993 to 2.91 percent this year – to its growing number of dropout prevention programs.
St. Mary’s County identifies eighth- and ninth-graders with learning problems and places them in special classes to reinforce academics, decision- making and organizational skills. The county school system also offers summer and night classes.
Most importantly, Lyon said, administrators promote regular school attendance.
“Students drop out for lots of different reasons. It could be that students get behind. Others may feel that they need to help their families out in a financial way,” she said. “Stressing consistent attendance is so critical because it’s a habit. If it’s a habit, you want to be in school.”
The percentage of students in all racial and ethnic groups quitting high school has decreased during the past decade but most significantly for African Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Asians and Pacific Islanders – at 1.28 percent – were least likely to drop out of high school. Whites and Hispanics followed at 2.91 percent and 3.44 percent, respectively.
More likely to drop out were African Americans – at 5.2 percent – and American Indians and Alaskan natives – at 4.59 percent, according to Education Department data. In 1993, 9.31 percent of African Americans and 7.77 percent of American Indians and Alaskan Natives dropped out of high school.
“That’s definitely a national trend. Maryland is not by any means unique in that club,” said Joseph Garcia, public leadership director of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization out of Washington that helps improve state school systems.
Maryland schools are being held more accountable than in the past, Garcia said. The education department is “making clear that they’re having higher expectations.”