When students drop out of school because they are unmotivated, unchallenged, or lack educational opportunities, the cost is staggering on many fronts. Some school districts in the country facing dropout rates approaching 50 percent are losing half of their potential revenue. Then consider that dropouts earn less money than graduates (and therefore pay fewer taxes) and that they are greater users of social services such as public health clinics and food stamps, and it is evident that society overall suffers when students leave school before finishing their education.
Orange County encompasses 27 school districts, including three high school districts, 12 unified school districts, and 12 elementary school districts. These districts range in size from 2,000 to over 50,000 students and serve a total of 500,000 students. Our ethnic makeup is 44% Hispanic, 34% Anglo, 16% Asian, and 4% other. Moreover, the county includes a wide range of economic demographic groups.
Orange County has achieved the lowest dropout rate in the state of California of all the major urban counties, due in large part to the success of ACCESS in keeping at-risk youth, who would have dropped out of traditional programs, engaged in the educational process. The Orange County Department of Education operates the ACCESS program to reach and teach students who have not, for myriad reasons, succeeded in traditional school settings.
ACCESS began with candid conversations between department representatives. assistant principals, counselors, and child welfare and attendance personnel at our high schools and junior high schools. The goal was to determine whether students who “just didn’t fit in” or didn’t want to attend their regular high school would come back to school if offered an alternative.
A world class education, the great equalizer of society, is the premier service and investment we can make in our students’ futures. Keeping young people in school and actively learning is essential if we are to survive as an educated society.