EdMedia Commons Archive

A Dropout Nation

Frontline broadcast a powerful documentary on Tuesday that looked at what one Houston high school was doing to curb its dropout problem.

It’s a searing examination of the lives of four potential dropouts and the Sharpstown High School staff’s efforts to keep them on track. Campus improvement coordinator Brandi Brevard even lets one of the students live with her for a while. She spends so much time with her kids at school, that she feels guilty about her three young children at home. She patrolled Houston streets to track down absentee students.

The principal, Robert Gasparello, kept giving them chance after chance, not sending one student to disciplinary school even though he was caught with marijuana.

The four kids have so many challenges, you wonder sometimes how they get out of bed. One girl, whose mother died after they relocated to Houston from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was homeless, moving from house to house, scraping for food, and losing custody of her son because of her circumstances.

There were some other things glancingly mentioned:

  • Use of data: Brevard filled a room with data about students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Dropout coding: Even though the school seemed committed to its kids, some miscoding took place.
  • Diploma mills: Some of the questionable coding was directed at kids leaving in their junior and senior year to attend “private schools.” Those private schools basically provide “diplomas” for $200 or $300 by students taking 200-question tests and through other questionable means.

Please watch this documentary some time. And comment on other ways reporters can cover this complex topic.

P.S. The producer, Frank Koughan, spoke at our National Seminar in May during our session on “Building Narratives Around Dropping Out.” When he spoke, he didn’t know the future of  the four students and whether they would stay in school or leave.

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.