Op-Ed: Moving beyond dropout statistics and toward solutions

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John Legend at TED Talks Education

John Legend hosts TED Talks Education—tonight, May 7, on PBS at 10/9c. Patricia Harrison, the CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, shares why this event is so vital. Photo: Ryan Lash

By Patricia Harrison

When I attended the taping of TED Talks Education last month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I knew I was witnessing an innovative collaboration with the potential to make a difference in the lives of many young people.

This milestone collaboration between TED, WNET, PBS, and the CPB American Graduate “Let’s Make it Happen” initiative moves us beyond the terrible statistics — that one million young people fail to graduate every year (see more stats in the infographic below) — and toward solutions. It’s the first TED event to be broadcast on television and, with it, public media has affirmed its commitment to investing in lifelong learning in every area we serve and given power to the notion that caring communities can make a difference.

So many of us had a school experience different from that of students today. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where, at the time, everyone in my community played an important role in keeping kids on track. Our parents and our neighbors wanted to know how we did on our report cards. If I brought home a “B+” my parents, aunts and uncles wanted to know who got the “A” and then asked, “Why wasn’t it you?” Everyone from the candy store owner on the corner to the man at the newsstand had an opinion about our activities and behavior — and conveyed this information to our parents. As a kid, I remember it as very annoying, but in hindsight, it was very effective. We knew they cared, so we had to care too.

This is a very different time. During TED Talks Education, you’ll hear the stories of high school students who have dropped out — or who considered it, but ultimately decided not to. You will find that in most of these cases, what made the difference was a student having someone in their corner — a champion who cared. Establishing a culture of caring about our young people and education is essential and it all begins at a community level.

Education and the relationship with each community has always been a core value for the more than 1,400 locally owned and operated public media stations that are dedicated to ensuring all Americans have free access to educational, commercial-free programming. Over the past two years, more than 75 public media stations in 33 states have worked in partnership with 1,000+ community and national organizations to create content that engaged with their communities. They also provided classroom resources through American Graduate to help young people stay on the path to a high school diploma.

During TED Talks Education — which airs on public media stations tonight — we will hear from students and teachers, plus business and community leaders, who show us how we can be champions for America’s young people and turn the statistics below around.


Patricia-HarrisonPatricia de Stacy Harrison is the president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the leading funder of public radio and public television programming in the United States. In 2011, she created American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a nationwide public media initiative to help communities across the country identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis.