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Pushed out

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Celeste Lavin

A new report conducted by Youth United for Change called Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia, has found that one of the main reasons students drop out of school is because school is boring.

YUC’s “Pushout Chapter,” comprised of out-of school-youth and youth in alternative schools, surveyed 273 out-of-school youth and youth in alternative schools, and conducted additional interviews as part of a focus group, about the dropout crisis in Philadelphia. They released the report at a press conference at City Hall yesterday.

The report says that 59 percent of those surveyed said they left school because they were disengaged and bored.

YUC accompanied their results with suggestions to improve the graduation rate and get kids re-engaged in school. They suggested incorporating experiential learning practices such as culturally relevant curricula, project based learning, and small group work to help students enjoy school and want to be there.

Along with boredom and disengagement, the report also found that young people drop out because of schools’ harsh disciplinary policies, problems with teachers and learning, and out-of-school issues such as pregnancy or drugs.

Over a quarter of the respondents said they left school because they needed to make money. To address this, the youth who authored the report suggested that the District offer financial incentives to students, or work with partners to provide paid internships.

As for the harsh disciplinary climate, 32 percent said they dropped out because they were suspended a lot, and 19 percent said that their school felt like a prison.

“In terms of facilities, I think prisons actually have better materials, better books,” said a high school teacher quoted anonymously in the report.

The report also notes that the disciplinary climate "disproportionately affects males and students of color." Compared with White students, Black students were over two and a half times more likely to be suspended in the 2008-09 school year, and Latino students were over one and a half times more likely to be suspended.

The youth who wrote the report referred to themselves and those they interviewed as “pushouts” rather than “dropouts.”

Ebony Baylis, a pushout and now a freshman at Harcum College, said they use the term pushout because “the term dropout suggests that people leave school because of individual mistakes and poor decisions. The term neglects larger systematic problems that lead to young people leaving school.”

“We chose the term pushout because it focuses on the school-based factors that lead to young people leaving school,” she said, offering her own story as an example.

Baylis’ mother took her out of school when she was in third grade. Baylis said that she was being bullied and adults in the school ignored her pleas for help, so she took the matter into her own hands. That resulted in repeated suspensions, to the point where her mother removed her from the school to home school her. She temporarily moved to Georgia, where the home school system was different and she couldn’t accumulate credits in the same way. When she came back to Philadelphia, she worked to earn her GED at one of the city’s E3 centers. Baylis said she didn’t drop out, she was pushed out.

Councilman Bill Green, University of Pennsylvania’s Chad Dion Lassiter, and YUC Executive Director Andi Perez also addressed the audience. Perez introduced the dropout crisis as a financial issue for the whole city, citing findings that the average dropout costs the public $319,000 because of a lifetime of less taxable income, increased dependency on welfare, and higher likelihood of being incarcerated and thus supported by tax dollars.

Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunnery and Associate Superintendent for Academic Support Tomás Hanna also attended the press conference. Hanna commended the youth for getting directly involved in their education and said, “We’re in a position to take a look at these recommendations… The last thing we want to do is push a young person out of school.”

The District released a response to the report shortly after the press conference applauding YUC for making “solutions oriented and student-focused” recommendations to address the dropout issue. The response also advertised the District’s efforts that they say are in line with YUC’s recommendations, calling the Renaissance schools “models of successful student engagement,” as well as the District’s Re-engagement Center, which was designed to get dropouts back into programs to help them graduate.