Sunday, December 28, 2008

Let students set the standards

(The following email was sent 12-28-08 to the Interact web site for Jacksonville Florida in response to the artile at http://www.jacksonville.com/interact/blog/2008-12-28/lowering_standards regarding the need for higher standards for passing in high school.)

Yes, I said let the students set the standards. This is a long term process.

I teach middle school and helped start a 10-year time-capsule and class-reunion project targeted at student retention and motivation. When students return 10-years after 8th grade they are invited to speak with then current 8th grade students about their recommendations for success. That is when they are able to set the standards. They speak about what it takes to best succeed in the world after 8th grade. Who better can set the standards than those who have lived life after school and know what it takes to succeed?

This project started 4 years ago in an inner-city Dallas public school as a focus on the future to lower dropout rates. Since starting the 9th to 10th grade attrition rate has gone down 40%. Not bad for a $2 per student investment for supplies and a photo given to each student. It is a photo of their Language Arts class posing in front of the 350-pound vault bolted to the lobby floor in the middle school lobby to function as the time-capsule. In this pose they each hold the self addressed letters they have written to themselves, that are then placed by them into the vault after the photo is taken. The letters stay there for the next decade. On the back of the photo is a label with details about the Archive Project and the planned class 10-year reunion, and their planned presentation to decade younger students at that reunion.

Who would better know the standards current students should meet than young adults who were in those same students places 10-years earlier, and therefore know what it takes to best survive the next decade?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

9th to 10th grade attrition rate down 40%!


In the September posting below I wrote that "the 9th to 10th grade dropout rates at Pinkston and Sunset have actually gone down over 25% over the past 3 years!" Since then the 2008-2009 enrollment numbers have come in. They indicate that in this, the fourth year, the 10th grade enrollments show that 76.5% of last years 9th grade number is represented in this years 10th grade number, up from the 71.5% for last years 10th grade. Thus in 4 years we have had a 40% improvement in the percentage of 9th graders making it to the 10th grade at Pinkston and Sunset combined.

Sunset is now planning its own School Archive Project, as are several other schools.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dallas Mayor Leppert working on dropout rates!

The work of Mayor Leppert is increasingly impressive.

I was at a meeting recently when Mayor Leppert very accurately spoke of the dropout crisis Dallas is facing. He described the dropout rate as "56% to 61% depending on the source of the statistics." He was speaking of the percentage of the 9th grade enrollment who do not make it to graduation. It was the first time I had ever seen a Dallas leader give such accurate numbers for our dropout crisis!

The graduation classes for Dallas ISD for the past 8 years, 2001 through 2008, had an average of 14,816 classmates enrolled in their 9th grade classes. Yet the average number of diplomas given out at the end of 4 years of high school, after that 14,816 enrollment in the 9th grade, was only 6,433 during these 8 years. This means the average graduation rate for the past 8 years has been only 43.4%. That also means that 56.6% of our 9th grade students were missing at graduation. (www.studentmotivation.org/dallasisd.htm)

It is very painful and hard on our city to admit how bad the dropout problem is. Fortunately it appears we finally have a leader who is facing this truth. Now change is finally possible! Our children, and our city, will be the ultimate winners!

Mayor Leppert sees that vision. He is willing to admit the hard truth of current dropout numbers. That is the only way to begin to work to change them so our children ultimately win!

Other positive news is that the 9th to 10th grade dropout rates at Pinkston and Sunset have actually gone down over 25% over the past 3 years! The power of the School Archive Project is slowly being manifested. In 2008-2009 it is planned to have 6 more Dallas ISD schools start School Archive Projects.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


There is very good reason to believe that the two schools who receive the majority of students who have been involved in the Archive Project will achieve a 50% graduation rate with the class of 2010.


The percentage of students making it from 9th to 10th grade has improved over 10% since the Archive Project started. That improvement should provide for those increases to continue through graduation. The class of 2009 may be close to the 50% graduation rate and possibly even make it.

Only from 35% to 45% of the students at these two schools are Archive Project students. If we can get Archive Projects going at the two other middle schools feeding into Sunset and Pinkston we may see graduation rates well above 50%.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


"See you in 10 years!"

Think back to when you were in middle school. With rare exception there was no expectation you would ever see your middle school teachers again unless you had the good fortune to be in a small community within which the teachers also lived. Middle school was something to “get through” and never look back.
Now, imagine you had worked on a letter during your middle school years documenting your life and plans for the future. You had then placed that letter into a vault bolted to the floor in your middle school lobby pending a class reunion 10 years off in the then-seeming distant future. When you said goodbye to your teachers as you left for high school some of them said “See you in 10 years.”
How would such a send off have changed your views of school?
Knowing of the planned 10 year reunion, and that you may be seeing your teachers again, is it possible your work in high school, and then maybe college, would have been affected?
Now, imagine you are a child with an 87% probability you are poor enough to be on the free school lunch program, your Mom and Dad, who probably do not live together, never graduated high school, and few people, if any, were even pushing you to graduate high school, much less college.
How would such a send off have changed your views of school and what you may achieve?
I value your thoughts,
Bill Betzenbbetzen@aol.com

Monday, May 12, 2008


This is another way to look at the same statistics and hopefully make them easier to understand. This chart is focused on those students who make it from 9th to 10th grade and how that percentage has improved in recent years at Pinkston and Sunset. Hopefully this is an easier to understand bar chart. It has been used to replace the other chart on the percentage of loss that was originally used.
The progress being made needs to be clearly understood.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Revolution in Progress!



This bar chart shows the amazing progress these past three years at the two high schools in Dallas which receive the large majority of Middle School Archive students. Pinkston and Sunset used to be listed among high schools with the worst dropout rate statistics for Dallas ISD. If the pattern established these past three years at Pinkston and Sunset continues for another year they will have moved to be among the top half of Dallas ISD high schools with the lowest dropout rates! Something good is happening at Sunset and Pinkston!

For the 11 years prior to 2007 the average percentage of enrollment loss between 9th and 10 grade was 36.9% for all of Dallas ISD high schools. In 2007 that average went down to 32.1% for all of Dallas ISD. Progress is being made everywhere! However at Pinkston and Sunset combined that average was even better, falling below 30%! These numbers can all be verified by studying the spreadsheet that can be downloaded from http://www.studentmotivation.org/DISDenrollmentbygrade1996-2008.xls to provide statistics for all of Dallas ISD. To see the enrollment statistics for Sunset and Pinkston go to http://www.studentmotivation.org/PinkstonSunset.html.

We are making progress in Dallas ISD! The only danger is the possibility that the 2008 Bond election on May 10th will not be approved by voters. That would set us back.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Evidence Archive Project is working!

The Texas Education Agency in March released on their web site the 2007-2008 enrollment data for schools in Texas. From this data the enrollment data for the two high schools (Pinkston and Sunset) that Quintanilla Middle School feeds into was selected and studied going back for the past 4 years. It showed a consistent pattern for both high schools:

1) Initially in 2005-2006 9th grade enrollment went up at both high schools. That freshman class included members from the first Quintanilla class to write letters for the Archive.
2) For the next two years at each school 9th grade enrollment went down - probably indicating that fewer students were failing 9th grade each year at each school.
3) Additional indications that fewer were failing 9th grade each year is found in the fact that 10th grade enrollment went up every year during this same time at each school.

These numbers indicate something good was happening for students at each of these schools. A study selecting out for Quintanilla students at each of these schools is needed to verify that they were the source for most of these positive enrollment changes over past 4 years. That is being requested.

The value of focusing students onto their own futures and their own achievements appears to be working!

The spreadsheet containing these numbers for these two schools can be downloaded from www.studentmotivation.org/PinkstonSunsetenrollment04-08.html. Please let me know of any errors seen.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

4-19-08 Presentation on School Archive Project

The Middle School Archive Project will be described as one of the presentations at a community meeting at 10 AM on 4-19-08 at the Pleasant Mound/Urban Park United Methodist Church at 8301 Bruton Rd. in Dallas.

Dropout Counting in the News

This past week dropout issues were in the news. Dallas found that their dropout rate is the seventh worst in the nation. However, among cities of a million or more population, Dallas would have been at the bottom of the list, the worst student dropout rate in the nation! This status was also given Dallas for numbers from the graduation class of 2004. Since then the graduation numbers have continued to go down. In 2007 Dallas had the highest percentage of seniors who failed to graduate for any Dallas ISD class since before 1997! For the class of 2007 16% of the seniors failed to receive a diploma! See www.studentmotivation.org/dallasisd.htm for the painful numeric details.

By 2007 the graduation rate in Dallas ISD had fallen to 40.5%, 4 percentage points below the 2004 rate!

This week U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that they would be requiring all states to use the same definition for dropout rates nationwide. It is long overdue!

The common dropout definition to be used needs to be simple, easy to track and verify, and fully transparent. In search of the needed transparency these numbers should be reflected easily for each school district in an annually updated spreadsheet of enrollment by grade. That spreadsheet should include the annual count given for diplomas actually granted, and at least 10 years of enrollment & graduation history. A spreadsheet similar to the one at www.studentmotivation.org/dallasisd.htm is recommended. Every school district in the nation needs such a simple spreadsheet easily available on their web site. It would expose what is really happening.

Yes, there will certainly be things that happen in all communities that cause these numbers to fluctuate annually. Those events should be explained in footnotes to the spreadsheet and never be allowed to compromise the validity of the numbers given in the spreadsheet. Too much has been hidden for decades about what is happening to our children. Simple true numbers and statistics must be mandated. If any educational administrator is fearful for their employment due to what is reflected, they should be able to explain those fluctuations, but not change the numbers reported.

The goal is to be consistent throughout the US so numbers in every state can be validly compared with those in any other state.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Middle School Archive Project - Dropout Prevention

The Middle School Archive Project design and history from 2005 to the present are described in detail on the http://www.studentmotivation.org/ web site. This blog is where feedback is posted and responded to.

The Middle School Archive Project is a response to the dropout crisis being faced in most US schools. The John Hopkins University designation of 1700 schools as dropout factories is a major step forward in US education. It is simply admitting the problem. All Dallas ISD non-magnet high schools are on the "dropout factory" list. See http://www.studentmotivation.org/DallasHighSchoolsCSOSlist.htm for details.

All high schools are challenged, especially those on the "Dropout Factory" list, to place their enrollment numbers by grade onto a spreadsheet going back 10 years, with the last number being the number of diplomas given out each year. Such a Dallas ISD spreadsheet is at http://www.studentmotivation.org/DallasISD.htm that shows the work we must do. Most of the public will be shocked by these spreadsheets. They require school administrators to explain how 30-65% of the 9th grade classes can be missing at graduation and the school still claim a single digit dropout rate, often below 2% as has often happened in Texas. That is why you will not find them on school district web sites. As painful as they are they these spreadsheets must be made public in school district web sites. They are the best place for us to document the progress toward curing our dropout crisis.

Please study the Middle School Archive Project (http://www.studentmotivation.org/) and the way it uses a large vault bolted to the floor in a school lobby under spotlights. The vault will have 10 shelves inside and function as a 10-year time-capsule for letters 8th graders write to themselves. They know they will not retrieve them until their 10-year class reunion. They know that at that reunion they will be invited to talk with the then current 8th grade classes giving their recommendations for success. Questions such as "Would you do anything differently if you were 13 again?" will be asked.

It appears that thinking ahead about replying to such questions helps students focus on the value of their current studies more easily.

How would you improve this project?