The Poor High School Graduation Rates in Detroit, Michigan

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From empirical findings in recent years, Detroit has achieved among the lowest high school graduation rates in the United States. A disputed article in the 2007 Education Week Report listed Detroit to have the highest high school dropout rate among the 25 major U.S. cities. According to the report, only 25 percent of students entering high school successfully complete their studies. Amongst other factors, the high poverty rate, unemployment, deteriorating and underutilized school infrastructure, inadequate staffing, and the problem of residential segregation contribute to the poor high school graduation rates in Detroit, Michigan. This paper examines, at the district level, the poor high school graduation rates in the Metropolitan Detroit area, and its relationship to a number of factors— the neighborhood conditions, the school environment, family stability, poverty, and peer influences as experienced in low-income communities. The metropolitan Detroit area remains vital to the growth and well-being of Michigan. Data from this research aims to offer a pathway for communities to enhance their planning and resource mobilization towards specific interventions, create activities and services at considerable scale to address the needs and expectations of all youth, and to implement the case for increased investment in education.

Background and Purpose

This paper focuses on looking at how well Detroit’s children will be prepared to navigate the changing future of Detroit and its environs. In the context of academic literature, the education progress among Detroit students is hampered by failures in both their schools and their community or neighborhoods conditions. It is necessary to note that, education is the cornerstone component to the health and growth of any economy, a measure of technological skill level, workforce productivity and the overall determinant of the social and economic welfare of the people and society. The introduction of the No child left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002 marked a paradigm shift in the treatment of education as a privilege to a fundamental right entitled to every child in the United States (Messacar and Oreopoulos 12). Today, education is a vital public policy issue that touches on the social, economic, political and technological aspects of human life and the environment. However, many schools in low-income communities have failed to provide adequate educational platforms to support the enrollment and graduation rates of minority students. Studies have shown that more than 88 percent of Detroit public schools students comprised of students of color while only 8.2 percent and 2.5 percent of the student population were Hispanic and whites, respectively (Miron 99).

The Dropout Crisis in Detroit

According to the existing statistical data, Detroit’s true graduation rate remains unclear and misunderstood, but no matter the total, far too few Detroiters aged 5 to 17 years old leave school prepared to join the modern competitive workforce or attend college. Findings suggest that, only 27 percent of students who commenced the ninth grade in the Detroit city school district actually graduated four years later ((Messacar and Oreopoulos 18). The majority of students in the district drop out early in high school due to difficulties experienced at the end of elementary school or in middle school level. In 2006, 57 percent of Detroit students dropped out in ninth grade—making it, the largest number compared to other 25 major U.S. cities. It is noted that, the poor attendance behavior, low coursework achievement are some of the key predictors of middle school transition among students in Detroit, as well as continued school engagement in high school. In 2007, 14% of youth aged 16 to 19 in Detroit were neither in school nor at work. Recent findings indicate that, the majority of all schools in Detroit failed to meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards from 2006 through 2009 (The Skillman Foundation 17). Lower academic achievement and qualification rates among most Detroiters contribute to the high unemployment, city crime rates, and an unacceptable income gap in Detroit (Wilk 8). Identifying and understanding the basic variables that affect high school graduation can provide us with a sound framework to act in ways that are beneficial to society, creating policies, practices, and dropout prevention programs to encourage holistic education, and eliminating factors contributing to the dropout crisis.

Safety and Community

It is necessary to note that, it is not only the family circumstances and the school environment, but also the neighborhood conditions that affect a child’s development. Psychological and developmental scholars consistently contend that, adult supervision and support during after-school hours are critical in shaping the behavior and attitude of children towards education. In most low-income neighborhoods, the socialization behaviors foster youth engagement in high-risk behaviors, particularly during after-school hours. A 2009 survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance indicated that, the inadequate number of afterschool programs in Michigan put it at the worst position in the nation. Further, the barriers to participation in the limited after-school programs in the state included poor access to transportation, poverty and unwillingness by a majority of students to attend such programs (Messacar and Oreopoulos 11).

Poverty and family also play a critical role in shaping the capacity of young people to complete high school and pursue professional development in adulthood. The low-income neighborhoods contribute to the large numbers of impoverished families, fragile living situations, and the constant educational and community-based challenges experienced by most of Detroit’s youth (Wilk 6). The social and economic consequences of residential segregation in the metropolitan areas not only contribute to the lower earnings, high single-parenthood rates, but also to the lower high school graduation rates in highly segregated areas in the district (Brooks, Donaghy and Knaap 329). Most findings revealed that, children from poor backgrounds are likely to develop a learning disability and combined with the lack of access to relevant learning resources, such children are unlikely to graduate from high school.

Youth Risk Behaviors

Based on a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, published in the Annual Youth Behavioral Risk Survey Report, high school going youth in Detroit reported higher rates of risky behavior, fear of violence, psychological, economic, and social-emotional problems than youth in the state or the nation at large (The Skillman Foundation 15). The report indicated that, the harsh neighborhood conditions contributed to the high insecurity and safety rates in the neighborhoods and school premises. Of notable concern, is the high likelihood of Detroit students carrying a weapon to school or failing to attend classes and exhibiting risky behaviors (The Skillman Foundation 18).

Child Abuse and Neglect

The resulting problem of early childhood trauma and homelessness contributes to the high dropout rate in Detroit and its environments. Mistreated children may experience long-term effects including stress, reduced self-esteem, aggression, withdrawal, inappropriate behavior and other socio-economic hardships. In 2009, more than 30, 300 cases of child abuse and neglect were recorded in Detroit, a rate of 14.2 per 1,000 children up to the age of 17. During the same year, at least 5.3% of Detroit children were placed in and out of foster care—indicating a rate of 12 per 1,000 children (Messacar and Oreopoulos 7).

Youth Violence and Crime

Over the years, Detroit has recorded the highest violent crime rates countrywide. The constant threat of violence in low-income communities remains one of the contributing factors to the low enrollment and attendance levels among Detroit high school youth. A report on Detroit crime rates in 2006 indicated that, more than 21,300 violent crimes were reported in Detroit— which is five or six times the statewide average (Perna 7). More information indicates that, Detroit has the highest rate of youth homicide incidences, with 30 percent of homicide victims being youth aged 24 and under, a further 85 percent were African-Americans, mostly males—a factor consistent with their considerable proportion in the overall Detroit’s population. Therefore, with the struggle to contain the violence, the educational and educational success of young people in Detroit remains highly challenged. The perceived generation poverty cycle in most Detroit families, primarily results from a large percent of heads of households without high school diplomas. Current figures indicate that, 29% of family heads in Detroit are without a high school certificates and, therefore, not capable of gaining meaningful employment to support the academic achievement of their children (The Skillman Foundation 19).

Detroit Education Systems

One of the major ways students are pushed out of the education system in Detroit is the harsh disciplinary policies and practices applied in most schools in the Detroit City District. Combined with the deteriorating and underutilized school facilities, and the understaffing problem, most of these policies and practices have done more harm than good in improving the quality of education in Detroit (Rivers and Barnett 163). For instance, Detroit rate of student suspension is three times the national average, with studies indicating that African-American student are far more likely to get suspended or expelled from school than their white counterparts (Rath et al. 21).

Proposals for Improving High School Attainment

Key to any strategy or approach aimed at achieving higher graduation rates in Detroit is gaining a better understanding of the dropout problem in each of the communities and the Detroit district as a whole.

Federal-State Relationship

The disconnection between state interest and federal demands on standards of education has often resulted into lack of efficient legislative actions to the drop-out problem in most Detroit schools. There is a need for increased state involvement to educate the population on the significance of high school graduation and encourage implementation of relevant legislative action to increase the legal minimum age at which youths can drop out of high school from 16 to 18 years (Rath et al. 10).

Schools in Detroit metropolitan area must adopt mandatory schooling laws to address the dropout problem among other benefits, such as reduced crime and lower rates of juvenile incarcerations in the low-income communities. Compulsory schooling in Detroit is also likely to contribute to the good emotional and health well-being of children potentially at risk of dropping out since, the creation of a supportive school environment that can help to fight drug use and engagement in other impulsive behaviors including cigarette smoking, gang fights, and alcohol drinking (Messacar and Oreopoulos 19). Compulsory education through lifting the school-leaving age can also lead to an increase in school enrolment by 1.7% points, suggesting that those encouraged to stay-on and complete high school take more of the various post-secondary opportunities present today. It is necessary to note that, while enforcing legislation to support compulsory education in Detroit, present opportunities to improve graduation rates, inadequate partnerships between the affected students, parents, teachers, caseworkers and principals present substantial challenges to implementation of compulsory schooling laws (Rath et al. 26).

State vs. Federal Role

The state is responsible for the legislation and implementation of compulsory schooling laws and education in general. On the other hand, the federal government is primarily concerned with encouraging states to develop and disseminate best practices and beneficial policies to enhance the quality of education based on a cost-benefit perspective.

Policies and programs implemented by the states and schools must focus on addressing the problem of school disengagement to help at-risk students from falling behind in their studies through practices, such as absenteeism, economic and social challenges at home and in school environments. Parents must also be encouraged to support their children and to provide motivation and procedures to guide their child’s level of engagement in education activities, school attendance and completion of homework (Ballard 45).

In addition, the state and local governments should also invest more resources to improve enforcement of existing and new laws governing school enrolment and attendance. Introduction of punitive measures can also prove helpful to mitigate habitual absenteeism, delinquent behaviors through fines and sanctions to act as corrective measures. Conversely, such laws should be designed to encourage college attendance and to improve academic performance and career outcomes of high school students in Detroit schools (Center for Child and Family Policy 5).

Cost and Benefits

Efforts to implement compulsory schooling through an increase in the minimum school-living age present both financial and non-financial benefits to individuals and to their communities. Although, it may prove difficult to quantify the actual benefits of compulsory schooling in Detroit, increasing the minimum age for dropouts can contribute to reduced cases of teenage pregnancy, reduced dependence on public-support programs, reduced crime rates, employment opportunities and increased economic and political involvement. Cost of this plan ranges from the cost of employing more caseworkers, teachers and truant officers to help the at-risk students. Other additional costs would include the cost of attending class and student accommodation. It is noted that, a pupil in the United States on average spends about $12,300 per year. More generally, the cost of accommodation per 16 year-old school dropout through graduation in Michigan State would be almost $25,000 per year (Messacar and Oreopoulos 28). There are also other indirect costs such as hiring of new teachers, developing new facilities and the challenges resulting from enrolling unhappy and disengaged teenagers in schools. Such intervention must be designed to enhance school attendance, academic participation and providing a strong educational foundation for students at risk of dropping out of school.

Works Cited

Ballard, Charles L. Michigan's Economic Future: A New Look. East Lansing: Michigan StateUniversity Press, 2010.

Brooks, Nancy, Kieran Donaghy, and Gerrit Knaap. The Oxford Handbook of Urban Economics andPlanning. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Center for Child and Family Policy. Dropout Prevention: strategies for improving high school graduationrates, http://www.familyimpact. Accessed 10 October /s_ncfis04report.pdf, 2012.

Messacar, Derek and Oreopoulos, Philip. Staying in School: A Proposal to Raise High SchoolGraduation Rates. Accessed 10 October 2013.

Miron, Luis F, and John E. P. St. Reinterpreting Urban School Reform: Have Urban SchoolsFailed, or Has the Reform Movement Failed Urban Schools? Albany: State University ofNew York Press, 2003.

Perna, Laura W. Preparing Today's Students for Tomorrow's Jobs in Metropolitan America.Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Rath,Bob, Rock, Kathryn and Ashley Laferriere. Pathways through College: Strategies forImproving Community College Student Success,, 2013. Accessed 10 October 2013.

Rivers, Caryl, and Rosalind C. Barnett. The Truth about Girls and Boys: Challenging ToxicStereotypes about Our Children. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

The Skillman Foundation. State of the Detroit Child: 2010. Data Driven Detroit, Accessed 10 October 2013.

Wilk, Thomas. High School Graduation Rates in the Metro-Detroit Area: What Really Affects Public Secondary Education. Undergraduate Economic Review, vol.5, no.1, 2009, pp.1-25.