Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Here’s a puzzle: The state has raised graduation standards, making it tougher to get a diploma. At the same time, though, North Carolina wants to raise its graduation rate. How do you make more kids stick with an even tougher program when they’re not enchanted with school in the first place?
The Kannapolis City School System learned last week that it’s at about the state average when it comes to its graduation rate ó 68.4 percent in Kannapolis, 68.1 percent statewide. It’s nice not to be at the bottom of the barrel, but who can express satisfaction when nearly a third of students drop out?
North Carolina’s rate is not that different from the rest of the country. Nationwide, one in three students drop out before finishing high school, and the result is a drain on society. An estimated 67 percent of prison inmates nationwide are high school dropouts, according to a 2006 Time magazine report, and a 2002 Northeastern University study found that nearly half of all dropouts ages 16 to 24 were unemployed.
This is really nothing new, though it is the first time the state has owned up to more realistic numbers. For years, the “dropout rate” the state used only counted students who dropped out in the past year, and the rate was usually in the single digits. This new “cohort graduation rate” also tracks the number of students in a class that drop out in their freshman, sophomore and junior years. The numbers are worse but more accurate, and they’re more in keeping with the definitions No Child Left Behind uses when it says schools should aim for a 90 percent graduation rate ó a lofty target.
About a third of the nation’s high school students have been dropping out since the 1970s, the Time report said, even though the need for a high school diploma has steadily increased. The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results. So it’s heartening to hear that A.L. Brown High School will launch a new ninth-grade academy this fall to help students adjust to high school and get the attention they need to stick with it.
Principal Debra Morris has also started an online learning program to meet students’ needs in a different way.
The schools need to use different methods if they want different results. A.L. Brown leaders seem to realize that.