The policies of Beverly Perdue, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, were brought into question recently by a report showing that North Carolina’s high school dropout rate is getting worse, despite millions of dollars set aside in the state budget. The dropout grant programs have many supporters, but new research carried out by the John Locke Foundation suggests that evidence does not offer a bright forecast for the program’s future.
The author of the report, Terry Stoops, found that “only 14 [out] of 100 North Carolina schools served by state-dropout-prevention-grant recipients saw substantial improvement in [their] dropout and graduation rates from 2006-07 to 2007-08.” Of the 100 schools that received funding from the dropout grant program, only 45 were able to improve their overall dropout rate. Of these 45, only 14 recorded higher graduation rates.
Governor Purdue has set aside $6.7 million to for more dropout grant programs. Stoops questions the wisdom of this move considering the inability of program supporters to prove its effectiveness. He said, “They cannot establish a causal connection between the grant program and changes in the dropout rate. A number of grant-recipient schools had lower dropout rates, but there is no evidence the grants themselves were the primary cause for the decline.”
Along the same lines, from 2006-07 to 2007-08, the average dropout rate declined from 7.2 to 6.7 percent, but the average graduation rates in those same schools declined from 73.1 percent to 71.5 percent. The millions of dollars being spent on this program simply cannot be proven cost-effective.
One valid argument defenders of the grant program make is that it is too early to be able to see the signs of success. However, as Stoops writes, “legislators should have thought of it before they wrote the law in such a way that grant recipients were expected to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs by the end of the 2008 calendar year.”
Stoops admits, “One of the purposes of my earlier dropout grant study was to point out how unreasonable legislative expectations and claims were.”
Governor Perdue is devoted to improving to public education and she describes her commitment as an effort to “transform North Carolina classrooms into 21st century learning centers through increased technology in the classroom and a statewide online school initiative, steps critical to preparing students to enter the global workforce.”
However, as Stoops points out in his report, “There’s no good reason to grant additional money to programs or replicate them based on anecdotal evidence alone…Instead, grant recipients should be able to quantify their program’s ability to retain students and significantly increase the district or school dropout rate.”