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Falling through the cracks

(Published June 17, 2002)

Amid all the pomp and circumstance of the past few weeks, as thousands of D.C. high school seniors proudly celebrated their graduation into adulthood, a disturbing fact has resounded.

Only about 2,400 students were eligible to receive diplomas from almost 20 D.C. public high schools this year. That's about 700 fewer students than made up last year's graduating class.

In other words, the graduating class of 2002 makes up less than 4 percent of the approximately 68,000 students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools.

It was bad enough last year when only 3,100 seniors graduated. This is a city with nearly 600,000 residents.

Instead of glossing over the problem by simply congratulating those 2,400 stalwarts for beating the odds, school officials might do well to ask the new graduates for some assistance to determine why so many of their classmates are falling through the cracks and how the situation can be reversed in an expeditious manner.

The evolving plan to "transform" the city's public high schools is certainly a step in the right direction, but long-term reforms won't benefit the current crop of high school students. They need help now.

The preoccupation of the District's political and business leaders with sending D.C.'s kids to college needs to be transformed into some serious effort to get the kids through high school. Financial aid for college doesn't help all of the kids who are graduating to the streets.

In real terms, very few D.C. kids are heading off to college, and many are graduating from high school without even the prerequisite skills to be gainfully employed - let alone, successfully complete a college degree.

Planning for the future is a necessity. But the District's children - all of them - are this city's future.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator