A report released last Tuesday by Montgomery County's Office of Legislative Oversight suggests that Montgomery County could be doing more to help its at-risk youth.
An average of 1,200 students, or 2.5 percent of enrollment, drop out of Montgomery County schools each year according to the report. But, despite the costs associated with prevention and recovery of dropout students in Montgomery County, there is no method to evaluate the success of the county's alternative education programs, such as how well students do if they return to their high school, whether they graduate, or whether they are prepared for college or work once they leave MCPS.
Average dropout rates for high schools ranged from 0.4 percent at to 4.6 percent at Wheaton High School.
The county allocated nearly $26 million in FY11 to the prevention of dropout students, spanning eight programs and serving a total of 13,300 students, according to the OLO report. Some of those programs spend as much as $21,800 per student on dropout prevention services (view attached table from the OLO report).
But it appears even the programs meant to prevent students from dropping out are facing their own high rate of dropouts. These programs have dropout rates of their own ranging from 5.1percent to 31.8percent.
About 70 percent of those students who do drop out are assisted by six dropout recovery programs, which help students with GED preparation and testing and other post-secondary support. Six dropout recovery programs, administered by Montgomery College and the Department of Health and Human Services, served 861 youth at a cost of about $2.5 million in FY11.
These programs include Gateway to College, provided by Montgomery College, where dropouts and current students can work toward a high school diploma and an associate's degree simultaneously. Gateway enrolled 141 students in FY11 with a budget just over $935,000. Another program called Conservation Corps, provided through the Department of Health and Human Services, assists youth in job training and GED preparation while providing a stipend. The Conservation Corps enrolled 19 individuals in FY11, with a budget of $400,000. The FY12 approved budget for the Conservation Corps program drops to $200,000.
"No comprehensive data currently exist that quantify the demand for alternative education programs in the county," the report states. “Nor have any of the County-funded agencies evaluated the effectiveness of their alternative education programs to increase high school completion rates or to prepare youth for colleges and careers."
When asked about the evaluation of the county’s dropout programs, MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said, “We are always open to recommendations on how we can improve how we serve all of our students and appreciate the information provided to us by the Office of Legislative Oversight. Alternative education is an important issue that we look forward to working on with the county and other agencies—including Montgomery College.”
What do you think the county could do to better serve high school dropout students? Should the county do more? Should it do less? Tell us in the comments.