Kansas City going all out to locate and recover missing students

Officials from the Kansas City School District are hunting down their missing students in hopes of regaining accreditation, which the district lost in January.

During spring break volunteers will call and visit the homes of about 1,000 students and review enrollment and transfer data from nearby school districts.

The district’s graduation rate fell to 50 percent in 2011, down from 65 percent the previous year due to a federal change in the way that rate is calculated, according to an article in The Republic. In January, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the high number of students failing to graduate in the district “a huge concern.”

Previously, states used different, often complicated and sometimes misleading methods to calculate graduation rates. Now, they have to use a single formula which basically divides the number of graduates in a year by the number who enrolled as freshmen four years earlier. Transfer students won’t hurt a school’s rate, but there has to be a paper trail proving the student actually transferred instead of dropped out.

"If you can't figure out where your students ended up, whether in another country or another district or home schooled, they count as dropouts against your data," said Andre Riley, a spokesman for the district. "And that's what this addresses."

Losing accreditation worries many parents, some of whom will place their children in other districts. It also puts the district at risk of being taken over by the state.

This isn’t the first time the district has attempted to track down missing students. In 2010, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People provided volunteers and were able to get 70 students back in the classroom.

But officials say this is the most thorough effort they’ve ever made.

"We are being crippled by not being able to identify where those students who left our district ended up," Riley said. "We have to clean up our data and do what we can to find up where our students ended up. That benefits us in so many other ways once we have that information."

These are good first steps. Using accurate-across-the-board data ensures that district officials — and the communities they serve — have clear understanding of the problem at hand. And enticing students back to school is an important part of any effort toward the no dropouts goal.

Just counting them and rounding them up isn’t enough. School leaders must understand how many students are leaving, but also why — and any effort to bring students back must be accompanied with support mechanisms that address the obstacles that drove students away in the first place.

If students left because they fell behind in credits and began to feel hopeless, does the district offer free credit recovery programs?

If students were expelled, or suffered suspensions that affected their ability to keep up with school work, does the district offer alternative schools, credit recovery, online learning opportunities, and anger management and life skills classes that would help students return to their educations?    

If students left because they were pregnant or parenting, does the district offer on-campus child care or online learning opportunities that allow teen parents to be good parents and good students? Does the district offer parenting and life skills classes that help accentuate the importance of taking care of their own education as a means of better supporting their family?)

If students left because of gangs, violence or bullying, does the district offer off-campus alternative routes to a diploma over and above the GED? Does the district offer programs for students seeking to leave gangs?

If students left because of transience, does the district “follow” students to their next point of enrollment and follow-up to ensure the student has successfully transitioned?

Students who graduate in Missouri make, on average, $8,109 more each year than their counterparts who have dropped out, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The economic repercussions of that alone make it important for Kansas City district not just to get accurate numbers, but to make sure their students are graduating.

Does your district take steps to track down students who have simply gone missing from the classroom? What techniques or methods do they use? And then what do they do?