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Texas A&M Faculty Members Study Impact of Grants on School Dropout Rate

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High School dropout rates are of huge concern to state legislators, teachers and parents. The Texas Education Agency spends millions awarding grants to schools in an attempt to prevent student dropouts. But, how do we know if the money is well spent or even making a difference?

Texas A&M professor Dr. Dennie Smith is busy working at the request of the Texas Education Agency. He and the Dean of Education have the difficult job of evaluating TEA-funded grants to determine their effectiveness at reducing the dropout rate.

"The idea of course is to look at different ways in which you can help students complete high school," said Smith.

Part of the research includes identifying what's working and what isn't.

Dr. Smith and his colleague Joan Conoley are looking at 300 texas schools, they plan to visit some of those this Spring, and have a final report submitted in about 9 months.

"The closer you can spend the money to the child the more successful the program," said Dean of Instruction for Bryan I.S.D. Becky Darce.

Darce is familiar with the TEA grants, she currently oversees four grants and says they help change lives. Lives like Jorge De Luna who thought of dropping out of Bryan High last year. He is now in the GRAD program, which allows struggling students to get back on track and earn a diploma.
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"My counselor told me I'd be able to make it and she's the one who kept pushing me. Now I got all credits except for one," said De Luna.

Dr. Smith said the goal of the grants is to pay dividends for a lifetime.

"There's a tremendous cost for not doing it. What we really need to do is make people more productive to help grow our economy, help fulfill themselves individually and find a place in our society," said Smith.

Dr. Smith is in the middle of his research. But, he feels reducing the dropout rate will come down to a couple of points, continuing programs once grant money is gone and the quality of instruction.

"I would say that the quality of teaching is very important, but it's the quality of the relationship with the teacher and once a student buys into that this teacher is truly concerned about me, this might be the most pleasant part of a students day," said GRAD principal Sandra Petty.

Petty said sometimes it takes dropout prevention programs like GRAD to establish that relationship.