Building a Web of Support; Study shows ways to keep students in school and headed for graduation

Seven threats

Gerry Obrian: Seven Threats

The Klamath Promise has been striving to improve student achievement in Klamath County with the goal of 100 percent high school graduation. Key in the Klamath Promise’s mission is the phrase, “we all play a part.”

The part everyone plays can make the difference between a graduate’s success or failure. According to a report released last year from America’s Promise and Grad Nation, the more support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to succeed and graduate from high school.

“Don’t Quit on Me” was published in September 2015. It builds on the 2014 report, “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” While the previous report focused on why students didn’t complete high school, the 2015 report examines what fellow students, families and communities can do to help students succeed.

“The more sources of support a young person has, the more likely he or she is to stay in school,” is one of the simplest statements of the Don’t Quit on Me’s conclusion. Even one person’s influence can bring a dropout back to the classroom. “This anchoring relationship allows the young person to access available community assets – and to leverage internal strengths. This trusted, stabilizing adult … provides a foundation that allows a young person to consider new possibilities for the future and engage a Web of Support.”

That “Web of Support” is what the study calls friends, adults, school and friends who, together, help students achieve.

“To put it simply,” the report reads, “some young people may be standing in a room that contains all the support they need, but they need someone else to turn on the lights so they can see what’s there and reach for it.”

Adverse Life Experiences

Don’t Quit on Me identifies the “hurdles” to graduation by a more technical term, “adverse life experiences.” These are detrimental things that can happen in a young person’s life, especially between the ages of 14 to 18, that keep him or her from graduating and likely from succeeding later in life.

Common adverse life experiences are: suspension or expulsion; becoming a teen parent; experiencing a major health issue, homelessness or moving many times, often called mobility.

The study listed these findings

n Students who stop going to high school have had twice as many adverse life experiences as students who don’t drop out.

n More than half of students who stop going to high school had five or more adverse life experiences, compared to 20 percent of those who graduated

n For each additional adverse life experience, the chances of not graduating from high school rises by 19 percent.

n Being suspended or expelled more than doubles the odds of dropping out.

Building the web

How to combat these adverse life experiences and detrimental statistics? Relationships, the study says.

This is where the Web of Support comes in.

One Don’t Quit on Me’s key findings states: Social supports from multiple sources buffer the effects of adverse life experiences for most young people. However, those who are facing the greatest adversity need more intensive support than family, school and friends can provide.

It may sound obvious, but the more support from more places better combats those bad experiences earlier in life. The ones that made a difference were people who “cared about me, treated me fairly, showed me how to do things, helped me solve problems, made sure I had what I needed for school,” students told Don’t Quit on Me.

“The young people we interviewed and surveyed showed us that the strength, number and nature of relationships in their lives are important factors that influence their engagement with school,” the report reads. “What we learned, in part, is that small interventions can make a big difference for most youth. You don’t need to be everyone to be someone for a young person.”

Oregon Dives Into Solving a Statewide Problem


Source: ECOnorthwest Analysis/ODE Data

Percentage of Students Chronically Absent by Grade Level

Oregon has one of the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in the country, with one in five students routinely missing 10 percent of the school days. In a 180-day school year, that means missing 18 days, or nearly three weeks of school.

With these stark numbers in mind, the Oregon Chief Education Office dove into this topic, producing the 88-page “Chronic Absenteeism Report.”

The report outlined the problem of chronic absenteeism, especially in in Oregon. Then researchers talked with students, families, educators and community organizations to dig to the root of the problem.

“What is unique about this report is that it is a purposeful examination of our system through the eyes and experiences of students most likely to be chronically absent,” it reads. “The voices of these students, and their families, collectively give policy makers and educators a lens to view all of our current assumptions and understandings in a new light.”

A copy of the report is available with this story

The study

Researchers conducted work with 44 focus groups in four categories: parents, students, educators and staff, and members of community organizations. They worked in Bend, Prineville, Madras, Curry County, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Medford, Multnomah County, Salem and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Researchers also focused on 12 additional focus groups of minorities, and held 14 meetings and interviews with experts.

“The quotes from the students … are particularly poignant and sometimes difficult to read,” the report states. “Their statements, along with those of the parents, present a picture of school that must be understood.”

The report does not specifically attribute quotes, but lists them in bold for greater impact:

“Teachers don’t care about us or our children. They don’t see us as capable. They feel as if our kids won’t make it and the kids know it.”

“My child just needs someone to connect to her everyday (sic). Not much – just a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you tomorrow’ is enough.”

While most educators automatically see school as a good thing, for some families and students, school is not a positive place.

“The fact is that some students and families may be making an informed choice to miss some school based on previous negative/traumatic experiences,” the report reads.

Those include students who experience racism or are most likely to be disciplined. People of color – including Hispanic, black and Native American – don’t see themselves reflected in their teachers, school staff, or the lessons they learn. Or the students might be working to support their families and care for siblings. All these problems do not equate to meaning the students or families don’t care about school.

“A narrative often emerges in the school that students and families do not value education,” the report says. “This narrative is destructive and has a compounding negative effect on student attendance by creating a less welcoming and more judgmental climate.”

Changing the climate

“Parents are consistent in saying they want a better life for their children and see high school graduation as a key to that better, life,” the report states. “This finding challenges the common perception that when children miss school, it’s a sign that their parents don’t care.”

Based on the interviews with students and families, the report outlines themes, including the importance of relationships and relating lessons to students on a cultural level; and barriers to attendance, such as affordable childcare, living wages and transportation.

From those themes, the report outlined six recommendations.

1. Build culturally responsive practices and school communities

Students and families want personal relationships with their teachers. Teachers need more training on how to interact with students of color, students with disabilities and students in poverty. Families need to feel school is a welcoming place, which will translate to students feeling more comfortable coming to class. When families know teachers really care about their children, that personal one-on-one relationship will foster more reasons for students to continue coming to school.

2. Increase meaningful partnerships between schools and community-based organizations

Chronic absenteeism is not just about one student, one family, or one school. It’s a broader socio-cultural issue extending beyond the campus. Partners can provide wrap-around services to help the whole community know school attendance is important.

“Examples exist across the state where public and private organizations, including social service agencies, community organizations, churches or other community center work together collectively to impact school attendance,” the report states.

3. Increase diversity in the educator workforce

Minority students want to see themselves in the people who are teaching them. Diverse teachers bring an understanding of minority students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences.

“Compared to their white counterparts,” the study states, “minority teachers are more likely to understand many aspects of the lives of minority students.”

4. Conduct deeper studies of attendance initiatives

While this report addresses the issue at the state level, every school, district and community is different. Any “best practices” need to be adjusted to fit the specific culture of each area.

5. Offer engaging content and courses

To make lessons more relevant, teachers should make sure to incorporate perspectives of various cultures. (For example, addressing American history from both the white and Native American perspectives.)

For high school students, classes with a career focus are why some students keep coming to school. “They key idea is that students vote with their feet,” the study states. If the lessons being taught don’t matter, students don’t attend.

6. Eliminate discipline disparities

When students are suspended or expelled, it makes it far more likely they won’t return to school.

“Excluding students from school is a harsh consequence,” the report says. “It results in non-attendance immediately and is a contributing factor in continued absenteeism and/or drop out.” Finding more inclusive ways to discipline students may lessen their departure from school.

US DOE Report: Increases in Spending on Corrections Far Outpaces Education

Press Release: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communications & Outreach, Press Office

State and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through grade (P-12) education in the last three decades, a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found.

Released today, the report, Trends in State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, notes that even when population changes are factored in, 23 states increased per capita spending on corrections at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil P-12 spending. Seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia—increased their corrections budgets more than five times as fast as they did their allocations for P-12 public education. The report also paints a particularly stark picture of higher education spending across the country at a time when postsecondary education matters more than ever. Since 1990, state and local spending on higher education has been largely flat while spending on corrections has increased 89 percent.

“Budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children’s future. We need to invest more in prevention than in punishment, to invest more in schools, not prisons.”

The report sheds light on the connection between educational attainment and incarceration. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of state prison inmates have not completed high school. One study also shows young black men between the ages of 20 and 24 who do not have a high school diploma or an equivalent credential have a greater chance of being incarcerated than employed. Researchers have estimated that a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates results in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates.

The report comes after former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last September called on states and communities to invest in teachers rather than prisons by finding alternative paths for non-violent offenders outside of incarceration. The $15 billion that could be saved by finding alternate paths to incarceration for just half of non-violent offenders is enough to give a 50 percent raise to every teacher and principal working in the highest-need schools and communities across the country.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Over the past three decades, from 1979-80 to 2012-13, state and local expenditures for P-12 education doubled (from $258 to $534 billion), while total state and local corrections expenditures quadrupled (from $17 to $71 billion).
  • All states had lower expenditure growth rates for P-12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections spending was more than 100 percentage points higher than the growth rate for education spending.
  • Even when adjusted for population changes, growth in corrections expenditures outpaced P-12 expenditures in all but two states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts).
  • Over the roughly two decades from 1989-90 to 2012-13, state and local appropriations for public colleges and universities remained flat, while funding for corrections increased by nearly 90 percent.
  • On average, state and local higher education funding per full-time equivalent (FTE) student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent.

To read the full report released today, click here.

Free Summer Learning Book for Parents and Teachers

Celebrate the start of summer!

Download “Summers Matter: 10 Things Every Parent, Teacher, & Principal Should Know About June, July, & August”

Written by National Summer Learning Association founder Matthew Boulay, the book is available for FREE on Kindle for two days only: June 21 & 22nd.

Please share with friends and colleagues! .

Summer Matters


White House Recognizes Oregon STEM Leader as a “Champion of Change for Making”

Last week, the White House recognized ten individuals from across the country as “White House Champions of Change for Making.”

According to the White House, individuals were selected for their personal passion and tireless efforts to make advances in technology and platforms, educational opportunities, or spaces that empower even more Americans to become tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Oregon’s John Niebergall was recognized for his more than 32 years dedication to training the next generation as an educator in the Sherwood School District in Sherwood, Oregon. He has worked tirelessly to provide his students with hands-on, contextualized learning experiences and has directly raised more than $825,000 through grants and in-kind contributions to establish a classroom and mobile Fab Lab. As a result of access to both top-level instruction and industry-standard software with state-of-the-art prototyping equipment, numerous students in Mr. Niebergall’s class have launched student-run, school-based enterprises. Of particular note is his successful efforts to create a culture of inclusion in his classroom with a notably high participation of female students. His instructional approach allows students direct experiences with the real-world challenges of designing, developing, manufacturing, and marketing. John has mentored other career and technical education (CTE) programs and educators.

This celebration comes on the anniversary of the first-ever White House Maker Faire in June 2014 where President Obama launched the Nation of Makers initiative, an all-hands-on-deck call to make sure more students, entrepreneurs, and Americans of all backgrounds have access to a new class of technologies—such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and desktop machine tools—that are enabling more Americans to design, build, and manufacture just about anything.  Last year, the President expanded the work and asked “all Americans to help unlock the potential of our Nation and ensure these opportunities reach all our young people, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

High school graduation more than a big deal: It’s absolutely vital

For the past couple of weeks high school students have been going through graduation exercises, sitting in folding chairs in cap and gown, waiting for their name to be called and then striding across the stage to pick up their diplomas that mark an important stepping stone in their lives.

Our congratulations to them and their families and to the teachers who helped them in high school, and, we hope, encouraged them to move on to advanced education in some form, whether at the university level, or technical training.

We also greatly appreciate the efforts being made to recognize the value of the high school education, which in today’s economy — and by itself — has to be considered as an essential means to something more, rather than as an end goal.

High school can be difficult — not just for the students, but their parents who have to make sure the kids get to school each day. Good attendance is one of the basics of a good education — a key one.

Klamath County has been working on improving the rate of high school graduation. It takes effort and it involves the community.

Most of the effort has been in providing help for those who need in various forms, such as mentors and tutors. But we also like the idea of community recognition shown in the “Graduation Sensation” parade down Main Street in Klamath Falls Thursday with students in cap and gown.

It was sponsored by Klamath Promise organization, which, along with its partners, is trying to increase the local graduation rate. That’s a years-long process and is important to the community. We need educated young people. (More about the organization, and how to help, can be found at

High school graduation is a big deal. That comment is for those who think it isn’t. Some of them, may come from earlier generations when a job “in the mill” was always available and the wages were good. Most of those jobs have left and even the ones that still exist dependend on modern technology, which require more education. It’s a new economy.

Klamath County residents should be thankful there are people working hard to improve the graduation rate and stressing the importance of education beyond that.

Salute the new graduates, especially the ones who struggled, but stuck with it.

Salute their moms and dads, or those filled the gap when one or both were missing and someone else stepped in.

And continue to let the graduates and the ones coming up behind them know that high school graduation is not only a big deal, but vital.

Report: Missing school for a reason

Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal 4:09 p.m. PDT June 5, 2016

Oregon’s Chief Education Office released a report on chronic absenteeism last week examining barriers to regular school attendance, for the first time, from the perspective of students and families.

Based on the responses they collected from strategic focus groups, the report gave six suggestions to address absenteeism in the state:

  • Increasing educator professional development and support with respect to building culturally responsive practices and school communities;
  • Increasing the number of meaningful partnerships between schools/district and community based organizations, especially culturally specific organizations;
  • Increasing diversity in the educator workforce;
  • Conducting deeper studies of attendance initiatives;
  • Offering more engaging content and course offerings;
  • Revising policies and procedures to eliminate discipline disparities.

The report gathered data from 44 focus groups in seven communities across Oregon — intentionally oversampling populations who are most likely to be disengaged from school including tribal students, students with disabilities, communities of color, and students who speak English as a second language. The report concluded some students and families may be making an “informed choice to miss some school based on previous negative/traumatic experiences,” such as racism.

Although the specific percentage of absences that qualifies as “chronic” varies from state to state, 10 percent of school days missed annually was the definition of “chronically absent” used for the study.

Oregon has one of the highest levels of chronic absenteeism in the country.

“Oregon’s rate of chronic absenteeism is … the highest among the states where data is available,” according to the report. “Nationally, one in 10 kindergartners are chronically absent. Notably … nearly a third of the chronically absent students in the primary grades were accounted for in only 20 percent of Oregon elementary schools.

“For eighth graders, Oregon is among one of the six states with 25 percent or more of students reporting missing three or more days of school.”

The Salem-Keizer School District has an absenteeism rate of about 7 percent, according to the district’s report card and the district’s average attendance rates.

Oregon’s FAFSA Plus+ outreach effort expanding, seeking applicants


May 31, 2016
Contact: Endi Hartigan, Communications and Policy Specialist | 971-701-4032 |
Source: Lori Ellis, ASPIRE & Outreach Administrator, OSAC, HECC | 541-687-7471 |

Oregon’s FAFSA Plus+ outreach effort expanding, seeking applicants

Eugene, Oregon | The Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) is pleased to announce that the HECC Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC) is expanding its FAFSA Plus+ program, a successful initiative to increase completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) among high school seniors. OSAC is expanding the program with a call for applications among high schools and partners statewide.

The FAFSA Plus+ program currently operates at more than 110 schools and sites across the state, providing schools with key data and resources they need to target outreach efforts and proactively support students in completing the FAFSA. Educators at FAFSA Plus+ sites are able to see exactly which students have completed the FAFSA, so that volunteers and staff can provide targeted assistance. Sites also offer personalized services and events, such as College Goal Oregon, financial aid nights, senior parent nights, financial literary and scholarship resources, parent communications, and more. In the words of one FAFSA Plus+ site representative, Yvonne VonHolle of Logos Public Charter School, “The FAFSA Plus+ report gave our staff [and] administration an edge we didn’t have before.”

Schools and partners interested in improving their FAFSA completion rates are invited to join this exciting effort. OSAC is currently accepting applications for new FAFSA Plus+ sites, and encourages school districts, high schools, TRIO programs, Tribal Education Agencies, Indian Organizations, and community-based organizations to complete the non-competitive application here.

The FAFSA Plus+ program expansion was funded by legislative investments in Senate Bill 5701 (2016), after recommendations from a work group for Senate Bill 418 (2015). In addition, this month, Oregon was awarded a FAFSA Completion Challenge Grant of $52,000 from the National College Access Network (NCAN) which will allow OSAC to launch a targeted FAFSA completion effort in the Portland metropolitan area in partnership with All Hands Raised, the College Place, and other Portland partners.

In 2016, Oregon leads the nation in increasing the number of high school seniors who completed the FAFSA, but Oregon’s rate of completion remains slightly below the national average, underscoring the importance of these efforts. Bob Brew, director of OSAC, said “We look forward to building on the exciting momentum and success we are seeing right in Oregon to further increase FAFSA completion rates, and to help more Oregon students access the benefits they need to succeed in their college goals.”

HECC Releases 2016-20 Strategic Plan for Higher Education


June 9, 2016 
Endi Hartigan, Communications and Policy Specialist | Office: 503-378-6769 | Cell: 971-701-4032

HECC Releases 2016-20 Strategic Plan for Higher Education

Salem, Oregon  | Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) has formally released the 2016-20 Strategic Plan for higher education after a year of work and collaboration. The plan provides a foundation and scaffolding for preparing more Oregonians with the degrees, certificates, and training they need to succeed in their goals and careers.

While higher education in Oregon is a complex network of institutions and providers that collectively award more than 45,000 degrees and certificates per year, HECC is the only state entity responsible for ensuring pathways to higher educational success for Oregonians statewide, and serves as a convener of the groups and institutions working across the public and private higher education arena.

Neil Bryant, Chair of the HECC, said, “This plan addresses the complexity of the higher education system, the myriad obstacles student currently face, and the specific opportunities and levers the HECC has to change them. It is both a realistic and deeply optimistic plan for us to work together as a state so that all Oregonians meet their highest education and career potential, and have the opportunity to prosper in a global economy.”

The plan defines six key priorities that will guide higher education funding and policy decisions within the HECC authority, including:

  • Goal-setting: sharpening state higher education goals in specific areas, including for working-age adults, and better reporting our progress towards meeting them.
  • Public College and University Funding: supporting sustainable state funding linked to student success.
  • Pathways: simplifying and aligning student pathways from cradle to career.
  • Student Support: enhancing student success, safety, and completion.
  • College Affordability: limiting student costs for attending college in Oregon.
  • Economic and Community Impact: contributing to prosperous workforce, economy, and communities.

Oregon has made progress toward the state’s 40-40-20 goal, yet not all of the state’s populations have experienced equally the benefits of improving completion rates. The HECC will take a lead role in convening partners to further align programming and supports to close achievement and opportunity gaps for low-income students, students of color, and recent high school graduates—and to improve connections between Oregon’s education and workforce systems.

Ben Cannon, Executive Director of the HECC, said, “I am grateful to the campus leaders, students, business, community, agency staff, and government partners who provided valuable input and expertise during our year-long development of this critical plan for the State of Oregon, and especially to the commissioners for their careful thought and vision. Throughout this process, we have seen a profound and shared commitment to educational excellence, opportunity, equity, and to real and sustainable progress, and I am deeply heartened for the future toward which we are navigating.”

The strategic plan is anchored by the Commission’s Equity Lens, which commits the HECC to ensuring that its policy and resource allocation decisions advance equity. It also builds on the Commission’sStrategic Plan 2014-15, which set a foundation for the Commission’s efforts to “steer and cheer” the higher education enterprise. The plan will provide the framework for policy and funding decisions through 2020, and HECC staff have already started developing implementation plans.

The HECC is dedicated to fostering and sustaining the best, most rewarding pathways to opportunity and success for all Oregonians through an accessible, affordable and coordinated network for educational achievement beyond high school. For more information, go to

State Releases Absenteeism Report Featuring Student and Family Perspectives

May 25, 2016

Media Contact:
Lindsay Moussa, 503-378-2761

State Releases Absenteeism Report Featuring Student and Family Perspectives
Chief Education Officer convenes legislators and cross-sector leaders to discuss shared response to findings 

(Salem, OR)–Today, the Chief Education Office released a report on chronic absenteeism that examines barriers to regular school attendance from the perspective of students and families. The report, created in collaboration with Portland State University and the Coalition of Communities of Color, gathered data through 44 focus groups in seven communities across the State.

The qualitative study resulted in the identification of two overarching themes: a need for culturally responsive practices (including those connected to relationships and school/classroom opportunities), and the importance of addressing systemic barriers (defined as a set of circumstances that affect school and families). In addition to general themes across communities, the study includes a focused analysis of two student groups most affected by chronic absenteeism, students with disabilities and Native American students. Collectively, the themes informed a set of six recommendations for the State and local communities across Oregon.

“This study offers a powerful snapshot of the experiences of students and families in our schools that have contributed to high absenteeism rates,” said Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps. “The voices in this report, taken in concert with existing research, call us to come together to develop cross-sector solutions to engage students in school, and holistically support families.”

The report is unique to the field and the State. Unlike existing state and national reports, which primarily focus on best practices within districts to improve attendance rates, this report focuses on using student and family voices to identify the root causes that contribute to students being regularly absent. The study intentionally oversampled populations who are most likely to be disengaged from school including tribal students, students with disabilities, communities of color, and students who speak English as a second language.

Chief Education Officer Lindsey Capps will host a report briefing and discussion today to bring leaders together to reflect on how the student and family perspectives offer a lens to inform existing and future efforts to reduce absenteeism, and engage students in their learning. Attendees will include: legislative leaders, education agency leaders and partners, and cross-sector agency leaders representing health and human services.

Chronic absenteeism is linked to critical markers of success in school. Absenteeism as early as sixth grade decreases high school graduation likelihood, and generally chronic absenteeism is also predictive of post-secondary enrollment, and increased involvement with the juvenile justice system. Beyond education, absenteeism also has implications for individuals’ long-term health and wellbeing. Children who do not graduate high school have greater health risks as adults.

Read the Executive Summary.
Read the full report.