Opening Doors is Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett’s initiative to increase the graduation rate and open the doors of educational opportunity to Pennsylvania students. In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Team Pennsylvania Foundation, Opening Doors joins the national challenge to end the high school dropout epidemic, and to raise the nation’s graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. Opening Doors focuses on identifying middle school students who are likely to drop out before graduating and matching them with appropriate interventions to keep them on a path to earning a diploma.
Currently, 17.4% or nearly one in five Pennsylvania students does not make it to high school graduation with their classmates. For African-Americans and Hispanics, the numbers are even direr: 34.7% and 35.4% respectively, fail to graduate with their peers. There is both a human and an economic toll for students without a high school diploma. Youth who fail to graduate face personal economic hardship and inflict a significant cost to their communities and to society. A high school dropout will earn $1 million dollars less than a college graduate over a lifetime and during his or her life can cost the public sector $209,100 per year through use of public assistance and penal systems.
Research shows that students at risk of dropping out exhibit early warning indicators: poor attendance, behavior issues and low course performance in English and Mathematics. Without intervention, students who demonstrate any or all of the warning indicators have only a 20% chance of on-time graduation. If these students are identified and matched with appropriate interventions, their odds of graduating increase tremendously.
Through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, an Early Warning System and Interventions Catalog tool is being developed that will help middle schools identify the students at risk of dropping out and match them with resources in their communities to address issues that cause them to disengage from school.
Beginning in the fall of 2013, this tool will be in use in five school districts across the commonwealth as Phase 1 of a rollout. Moving forward, it will be available to middle schools statewide at no cost to the school districts or the state. Federal and private grants and donations are funding the costs of the tool’s development.
Since starting the Opening Doors initiative in 2011, the First Lady has traveled the state meeting with superintendents and visiting schools and organizations to highlight best practices in keeping middle school students engaged and on track to graduate. She plans to continue these visits as she works to focus attention on the critical need for a high school diploma and the importance of middle schools in keeping youth on a path to attaining one.