A new report by Johns Hopkins University looks at 17-hundred high schools across the country over three years. It tallies the school's freshmen and compares that to how many seniors enroll there three years later. Those that have 60 percent or fewer seniors than freshmen are labeled "dropout factories."
According to the study, Rockford's Auburn and East High Schools have a 45 percent retention rate. Jefferson comes in at 53 percent. But school leaders question the report because it does not track individual students.
"There are a lot of reasons why people come as freshmen and then are not there in their senior year. Now do we have dropouts? Certainly and we lose too many," says Earl Hernandez, Chief Operating Officer of East High School.
Administrators prefer to rely on state graduation rate reports that account for issues like transfers. By that standard, Rockford had an average 75 percent graduation rate last year, climbing from 69.4 percent in 2004. What troubles many district leaders most is the disparity between racial groups. District-wide white students graduate on average ten percent more often than hispanics and african americans.
To get all students from start to finish, each high school now has a freshman foundation. That includes smaller classes for freshmen, extra help for kids that are on the cusp of passing and more extracurricular involvement.
"If you can get them to get through their freshman year, their odds of graduating with their grade-level peers goes up astronomically," says Assistant Superintendent Thomsas Schmitt.
Anti-truancy efforts are another key component of district efforts to improve graduation rates and right now many Rockford students are seeing success in their own hands. "I know I'm going to go far in life and I think if people made better decisions then they could too," East High School freshman Jennifer Dana.
The Hopkins study identifies 55 Illinois schools as dropout factories. They're mostly in urban and low-socioeconomic areas. But East's Chief Operating Officer says his school is turning around. He says school attendance zones are another big asset because they help staff target instruction to students in advance.