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Dropping Out

Aired June 25, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: By the time I'm done reading this paragraph, another student will have dropped out of high school. It happens every 26 seconds.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

Coming up, we'll tackle the huge job of keeping at risk teens in the classroom.

Plus, the summer brain drain. Should kids be in school year round? Or should they be allowed to, well, just be kids in the summer?

And if your child needs inspiration, U.S. Olympic superstar Michael Phelps drops by with his story you don't want to miss.

But, first, for some kids, it's a dream come true -- no homework. It's a new wave in education, school districts and parents embracing an anti-homework movement because their kids are trapped in a meaningful cycle of busy work or they're under too much pressure or they're learning for the sake of standards testing, not to learn.

High school English teacher Sarah Wessling is the 2010 Teacher of the Year. She joins us from Johnson, Iowa.

Sarah, this summer, Galloway, New Jersey, the school board is going to vote on whether it should limit weeknight homework to just 10 minutes for each year of school and ban assignments on weekend, holidays, vacations, no weekend homework.

One minute in America, Sarah, we're falling behind the rest of the rest of the world. The next minute our kids are overstressed and overwrought by homework. Which is it?

SARAH WESSLING, 2010 TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Well, it's a little bit of both, I think. But you know? I think the real crux of this conversation is what are we asking students to do when they're not in school. So, often, what we're asking students to do outside of school are tasks that are isolated from teachers.

What we really need to do -- that some teachers are doing -- they are flipping around what you normally would see during the school day like a lecture and students are watching those online at night. And then when they are in school, they are working side-by-side next to teachers with that work that's so important.

So, when we talk about homework, we need to think what we're asking students to do and what's most important to their learning.

ROMANS: Right. And what kind of homework is it? Is it busy work or is it something that's helping them learn how to learn or freeing up time in the classroom for important one on one?

LZ Granderson, contributor, frequent guest to this program, finally in the house with us.

Let's talk about the summer brain drain with kids, LZ. We know the National Summer Learning Association say kids lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math computation skills over the summer months and that we also know it leads to losses in reading although not quite as much as in math.

So, wait a minute. We're talking about less homework during the school work, but we know they were right in the midst of the summer brain drain right now. What's the message here?

LZ GRANDERSON, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: I think the message is the education process hasn't figured out what's best for our kids, that it is throwing a bunch of thing up against the wall until something actually sticks.

If we know that our kids are losing valuable basic information during these long breaks, why are we continuing to give them these long breaks?

ROMANS: Right.

GRANDERSON: It's like we haven't figured out the disconnect between the two ideas.

ROMANS: You know, you make a good point about homework, too -- that, you know, in some places we need to be doing more homework, because kids have idle time without it. And we look at, the ranking is around the rest of the world. There's a lot of other -- even rote busy work that other countries do.

Where do you weigh in on the homework debate?

GRANDERSON: I'm about homework, homework and homework. My son would tell you, I took him from two different private schools looking for him to have enough homework.


GRANDERSON: Because I didn't like the idea that he would come home and tell me he got his homework done on the bus, because any homework you can get done in a 20-minute bus ride is not enough homework, is not challenging enough. I think it's a good idea to have that kind of educated structure at home that continues whatever they went through in the classroom.

ROMANS: And I think you said you got your kid in like three academic camps.

GRANDERSON: Yes, he's at a debate camp right now.

ROMANS: There you go, debate camp. Oh, man. I don't want to debate his kid.

But, Sarah, you say camps -- they can be effective, right? I mean, should people be looking --

WESSLING: Absolutely.

ROMANS: -- to fill the summer, fill the other times with debate camps and camps like that. But it also can add to the pressure cooker, which is one of the reasons why parents in some school districts are pushing back from all these, the homework and big push for academics outside of the classroom.

WESSLING: Absolutely. It's about knowing our children, you know, and their individual needs. And some students are ready to do academic camps in the summer and that's fabulous. And there are other students who need to be able to wonder in their backyard and be able to use the resources at their local public libraries and those kinds of summer programs as well.

And we have to remember that we want to continue to foster habits of mind. And that's what's so important over the summer, is that our kids do not lose the motivation to read, to write, to think, and to wonder, to inquire.

ROMANS: I want to show you top five high schools in America. This is according to "Newsweek". They almost have a perfect graduation rate.

Look, you say that, Sarah, that these schools have a unified vision. I want you to look very closely on the right-hand side, the average SAT score of those five schools, that's pretty amazing. The average SAT score in America is something like 1509.

Sarah, what do you mean a unified vision?

WESSLING: Well, one of the things that I've learned this last year in traveling around the country and even internationally is that schools and classrooms in states and even countries that are successful in education are places that have a very unified vision. And when I look at these schools in this top 100 list, I see schools that have committed to doing one thing very well, and in that, they do everything really well.

And that's just the opposite of what so many public schools feel. So many public schools feel the requirement to do so many different things well that consequently they don't know where to put their focus.

ROMANS: All right. Sarah Brown Wessling -- thank you so much for joining us.

Also, LZ Granderson, really nice to see you both today.

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody.

All right. Every 26 seconds -- think of that -- every 26 seconds, a high school student drops out. It will take parents, teachers, students and business to slow down the clock, next.


ROMANS: Not every student succeeds in a traditional school setting. That's where YouthBuild comes in.

It's a federally funded program that's taken thousands of high school dropouts and puts them back into the classroom. But due to budget cuts, the program for teens at risk is now at risk itself.

Allan Chernoff has the story.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donovan Bruce dropped out of two different high schools. Today, he's getting paid to learn home construction while studying to finish his high school education. Where traditional high school failed, the federally-funded YouthBuild program is succeeding for Donovan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just learned today that Donovan passed his GED.

CHERNOFF: He now plans to attend college in the fall.

DONOVAN BRUCE, YOUTHBUILD STUDENT: You are just learning in a good environment and everybody is helping each other out. And everybody gets a chance to succeed.

CHERNOFF (on camera): YouthBuild does keep kids off the streets and in school, where they can prepare for a career, especially important in today's economy.

(voice-over): But in the past two years, Congress has cut the program's funding by more than a third. Among those hardest hit is Brooklyn's Dreams YouthBuild where Donovan is among 35 students getting second or third chances.

It's one of 121 youth build programs around the nation that have lost federal funding administered through the U.S. Labor Department.

DOROTHY STONEMAN, CHAIR, YOUTHBUILD COALITION: The idea of cutting this program, to even fewer young people, rather than opening the doors to all of the young people who are looking for a way back into a productive role, is really bad policy.

This program works. I mean, we have young people lining up outside the doors. They call it the Harvard of the hood because there's such a high demand for it.

CHERNOFF: That demand results from a nurturing environment, which Yanique Eubanks couldn't find when she quit high school last year.

YANIQUE EUBANKS, YOUTHBUILD STUDENT: They like a family, like the mother, the aunts and cousins and stuff you never had.

DITASHIAH KOHN, DIRECTOR, DREAMS, YOUTHBUILD: There's always someone to listen to them, to respect them, to show them that they care and you believe in them and that you want them to succeed. I think that makes the difference.

CHERNOFF: While politicians search for a way to help troubled kids continue their education, YouthBuild advocates say the government already is funding one. The answer they argue is to expand, not contract youth build to help dropouts turn their lives around.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, Brooklyn, New York.


ROMANS: More than 1.2 million students dropped out of high school last year. It works to one every 26 seconds. It's a big, complicated problem, fixing it will take teachers, administrators, students, parents, politicians and business.

Joining me now to talk about it: Ed Rust, CEO of State Farm, the insurance company. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, now president of Alliance for Excellent Education. And Dominique Farrar, who almost dropped out of school twice, but is still in school.

Ed, let me start with you. You run an insurance company. You sponsor this program called 26 Seconds. You sponsor with scholarships, programs to keep kids in school. It's social responsibility but also, we need an educated workforce for you to hire and for you to sell insurance to.

Tell me why business has to be involved in this?

ED RUST, CEO, STATE FARM: Why is this business involved in this? Why are we involved in it?

Because we look at the youth of today as really our future for tomorrow. The workforce, the consumer of tomorrow is critical to our long-term success and we want to make sure that our kids today are having an exposure to a learning environment that will give them the critical analytical, communication skills that they're going to need to be employable in the future and to really enjoy a world of life- long income opportunity.

ROMANS: You know, Governor Wise, it's so interesting, because there's a recent study by Charles Schwab. It's teens and money survey. And teens expect their average starting salary to be about $73,000.

Well, I'm tell you something, if you drop out of school, you're not going to get that. Even if you graduate from school, you're not going to get that. There's this disconnect of trying to convince kids that they need an education, they need to stay in school, and the realities of what they're going to mean and to get in the economy.

BOB WISE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF WEST VIRGINIA: Well, there's a total disconnect. And, indeed, what we've learned -- we've learned this. We've learned that the best economic stimulus package for both the student and country is a diploma.

One class of dropouts, if we cut it in half in this country, it will mean over $7.5 billion in additional income. Those kids are not going to have jobs, but they're going to spend more. They'll create 54,000 additional jobs and pay almost three quarters of a billion in new state taxes.

And so, once again --

ROMANS: And they won't cost society. The other thing that happens when you dropout, so many -- the statistics are terrible for what you will earn or what could happen to you. Crimes committed, ending up in prison.

WISE: One class of dropouts will cost this country $330 billion in lost wages plus a whole lot during a lifetime. And so, that's the best way to cut the deficit is to increase graduation rate and it's also why it's so important for students to understand and communities why everybody has a stake in more students graduating.

ROMANS: You saw an Allan Chernoff's piece, though. The question now is we're cutting budgets, we're cutting budgets, we're cutting budget. We have to make sure the politicians recognize to do it smartly so that you're not hurting yourselves or adding costs later on.

WISE: If you cut deficits that end up increasing dropouts, all you've done is dug the hole deeper. You have to increase the graduation rate.

ROMANS: Dominique, welcome to the program. You friends play domino, right?


ROMANS: So, tell me, you went through this program 26 Seconds, and you thought about dropping out a couple of times but you stayed in.

FARRAR: Yes, I did.

ROMANS: What did it mean you? Why did you decide to stay in?

FARRAR: Well, at first, when I was preparing to dropout at the Agricultural Food and Science Academy, I just wasn't interested in school, wasn't interested in traditional, how do you say, just traditional academics.

ROMANS: Right.

FARRAR: When I was enrolled in high school for recording arts, I began to actually more focused in academics and in graduating until things got rough with my daughter and whatnot and child support.

ROMANS: Right. So, you're 19 years old and you're a dad.

FARRAR: Yes, ma'am.

ROMANS: So, like many people who are considering a dropout, you're a grown up and you're a kid at the same time.

FARRAR: Yes. What kept me in school was -- it was random actually. I came to the school one day and one of the facilitators, he's like a big brother, (INAUDIBLE), he was talking about 26 Seconds campaign. When he said every 26 seconds, somebody drops out of school.

ROMANS: And that was going to be you.

FARRAR: Yes, exactly. So, it kind of smacked me in the face like, I don't want to be a statistic. I want to be -- plus, being a recording artist, I want to set an example. I want to be someone that everybody looks up to. You know what I mean?

ROMANS: What about an example for your daughter as well?

FARRAR: Oh, definitely.

ROMANS: There's this dropout cycle that's very difficult to break, you know? I mean, you are a role model.

FARRAR: Right. And being role model for my daughter is like, I don't want her to fall into a statistic that can grow, that could become every 10 seconds somebody drops out, you know what I mean? I don't want it to --

ROMANS: So, let me ask each of you. Just quickly, you know, what works?

Is it mentorship? Is it money for college? Is it higher expectations from the people around you? What worked to keep you in school?

FARRAR: It's really self motivation, like after you hear about the statistic, after you see that people trying to help. Now, it's all up to the students. It's up to us as students to actually take an effort to, you know, go ahead and graduate high school and become, be more, be you.

ROMANS: Governor Wise, what works? Is it a little bit of everything?

WISE: It's a little bit of everything. But let me just say, it's targeting. We know as early as sixth grade what students are on the dropout track. We can intervene.

ROMANS: We know as early as sixth grade.

WISE: As early as sixth grade. You can tell from drop in grades, you can tell from increased truancy and you can tell from disciplinary problems.

ROMANS: And what happens to those kids?

WISE: What happens is, they begin -- they don't wake up one day and dropout. It's a process that's taking place over many years.

We also know this. We know that about 8 percent of our high cools contribute half of all dropouts in the country.

ROMANS: That's right. The dropout factories.

WISE: The dropout factories. We need to target students as early as possible. We also need to target those schools that are producing the most dropouts.

ROMANS: And, Ed, from what you've seen in your affiliation with this, or the sponsorship of this program, 26 Seconds, what works?

RUST: You know, what's unique about the 26 Seconds program is really, as Dominique was saying, it's a variety of ways of connecting with today's youth via through Twitter, via through Facebook, via through other means of social networking or people attending, participating in school discussions, getting communities involved in it.

There's no one single factor. It's really getting our minds in a more holistic approach around reaching out to our young people and helping them understand the relevance of an education, the importance long term. And giving them a variety of ways of how do they get engaged and get exposed to that.

ROMANS: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. Ed Rust from State Farm, Governor Bob Wise and also Dominique Farrar -- very nice to meet you. Best of luck to you and everything.

It was a parent who pushed my next guest, his mother. She wanted him to learn how to be safe in the swimming pool. He brought her home 16 Olympic medals. Next.


ROMANS: We were all glued to our TVs in 2008 as we watched Michael Phelps win an impressive eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Since then, the Olympian has stepped out of the spotlight and turned his focus to helping kids find that same passion for swimming that he has through his foundation.

Here with me now is 16-time Olympic medalist, Michael Phelps. Welcome to the program.


ROMANS: This is the "I Am" program. I am strong, I am -- what does it mean? What are you trying to do with it?

PHELPS: Have kids learn things that they'll use throughout their whole entire life. You know, confidence and, you know, I am healthy, I am strong. You know, promoting an active, healthy lifestyle for children.

ROMANS: It was your mother who really was pushing you and your family. I mean, this was something you learned a lot of confidence, but you got this nurturing push from someone.

PHELPS: She -- my mom wanted us just to be water safe. And we ended up falling in love with the sport and this is where it's brought us.


A lot of people were telling you that you couldn't do it, or a lot of people were -- kids maybe -- picking on you a little bit about, what, about your ears?

PHELPS: Ears, shaving my legs, whatever, wearing a Speedo. It's -- I mean, at the time, obviously, I was kind of, you know, upset, but --

ROMANS: But you must have had some self-confidence to get over that.

PHELPS: I think I got to the point where I just didn't care. You know, I was happy and I love what I do.

ROMANS: Right.

PHELPS: You know, I have goals I want to accomplish in the sport before I retire, and I didn't care what anybody else said. And, you know, when people doubt me now, it just fires me up and gives me more motivation.

ROMANS: Can you tell me what those goals are? Because, I mean, you have so much medal around your neck, and I can't imagine you could even hold your neck up. What are those goals?

PHELPS: Everybody wants to know, and you'll find out in 15 months after the Olympics, if I was successful or not. It's going to be hard, but, you know, I think it's something that's doable and something I want.

ROMANS: What are you going to do to get there?

PHELPS: We have 14 months of training really before the Olympics comes, so the world championships this summer that I'm getting ready for in Shanghai, and then on to Olympic trials next June.

ROMANS: I want to talk more about the foundation a little bit. In the meantime, you're trying to use -- your celebrity -- to try to do some good with kids, get kids in the pool. A couple of interesting statistics: USA Swimming Foundation found that six out of 10 African- American, Hispanic, and Latino children don't know how to swim. That's twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts.

Your program making an effort to reach into ethnically diverse communities. Why?

PHELPS: We opened up last year with six clubs throughout the country and we just opened or are in the process of opening 10 more to bring the program to those additional 10. And they -- they're all over the country, in different cities, reaching out to, like you said, different races here and there. So, it's --

ROMANS: Makes the sport more exciting.

PHELPS: It does.

ROMANS: I mean, if you talk about a pipeline of new athletes, it makes the sport that much more exciting.

PHELPS: And the cool thing is, you know, when a kid is in the water, they're having fun.

ROMANS: Right.

PHELPS: And, you know, I think that's something that's pretty special, just being able to see a genuine smile on the kid's face.

ROMANS: We're also seeing a lot of people using their celebrity, like Michelle Obama, for example, getting kids to move. You know, one in three American kids are overweight or obese. Encourage kids to get out there and start moving. That's part of this whole program, too.

PHELPS: It is. Just being able to live a healthy and active lifestyle, I think is extremely important for not only kids, but I think everybody in the country, and all over the world. So that's a big part of my foundation. And it's been exciting. Sort of, I guess, a dream come true.

ROMANS: Let me ask you over the next 14 months, are you ready for all the scrutiny? I mean, a lot -- I mean, you did so well, a lot of people are going to be watching every move you make.

PHELPS: I'm sure. And it's -- I was talking to a friend earlier, and it was funny, every time you'd lose a race, it's still on there -- it's not if you win anymore, it's if you lose. So --

ROMANS: It changes the dynamic, so does that inspire you, or does that, you know, aggravate you?

PHELPS: You know, I have my goals that I want to accomplish. And as long as I get there, it doesn't matter, you know, really what happens, you know? If I can say I did everything that I could do to get there, then I feel like I've been successful. So, you know, I'm just focused on what I want to do and what I have to do and that's about it.

ROMANS: All right. Well, we'll be watching.

PHELPS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Michael Phelps, really nice to meet you.

PHELPS: Thanks a lot. You, too.

ROMANS: I am for (INAUDIBLE) of his foundation.

All right, $90, that's the average price of a modern day slave. It's a shocking story one actress Demi Moore along with CNN's Freedom Project is shedding a lot of light on -- how you can help.

That's next.


ROMANS: The conversation this morning has been about education. But before I say good-bye, I'd like to highlight another issue, one that not only robs those afflicted of getting an education -- it also robs them of their dignity and their freedom. I'm talking about human trafficking.

CNN is using its global resources to expose the trade and exploitation of people around the world. It's called the CNN Freedom Project. This Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's Freedom Project and actress Demi Moore for the world premiere of "Nepal's Stolen Children." It's a remarkable story of thousands of young girls sold for sex and the amazing woman who rescues them, CNN's 2010 Hero of the Year.

And it's a story that needs our attention.

To find out more about this topic and how you can help, logon to and click on the "how to help" tab.

The conversation on Facebook and Twitter and our show page is at Please join us, find us, leave us any kind of comment you want on the topics of these show. Weigh in, we read every single one.

I'll see you Monday morning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern on "AMERICAN MORNING."

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