Working Together or in Separate Little Cubicles With Only a Computer For Company, HISD Students Post a Lower Dropout Rate, Higher Grad Rate

The percentage of kids officially dropping out of the Houston ISD decreased from 12.6 percent (Class of 2010) to 11.8 percent (Class of 2011), Superintendent Terry Grier announced today.

At the same time, the marker on the graduation rate went up as well from 74.3 percent to 78.5 percent in the same time period. According to the district, a large part of the graduation success was due to more kids plunking themselves down behind a computer and making up the courses they'd fallen behind in their regular coursework.

So, after all these years of debating whether there should be all-girl or all boy classes because one gender supposedly distracts/overpowers/learns a different way than the other, it seems what educators should have been focusing on is the no-other-human approach -- just a kid and his computer.

Whether you're on board with the accountability system that the Texas Education Agency and HISD agree upon - and there's a lot not to like about its loopholes that don't count as dropouts kids who say they're moving out of state (do they all really?) or who declare they're going to be home-schooled by their parents (a sudden epiphany?) -- it still appears as though things are improving in the mega district.

Whether he was being pragmatic or giving himself a little cushion, Grier did say that lowering the dropout rate from here on out will be tougher, comparing it to lowering a gold score from 90 to 80 and now trying to bring it down to 75.

While stating once again that he is opposed to "drill and kill," Grier said students must know what's going to be on the standardized tests they're taking. "If we don't teach kids what's on the test, they'll have no other access to that knowledge; it isn't in their homes."

Following up after the meeting, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said it is a combination of programs that have been succeeding with students. "It's not a one size fits all approach," he said.

Some of the programs cited by Grier include Dropout Recovery, Intervention and Prevention AKA DRIP (no kidding); Innovative Learning Zone programs at five high schools and one middle school in cooperation with Houston Community College. There's also a mentoring program matching student case workers with at-risk kids as well as a Dropout Prevention Early Warning system that alerts schools to kids with at-risk behaviors if their grades take a dive and absences and bad behavior reports increase.

Reporter Mitchell Slapik contributed to this report.

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