published Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Raise the drop-out age

President Obama's State of the Union call for all states to raise their minimum school-leaving age to 18 could be dismissed as just another political exhortation that sounds good and perfectly reasonable, but is not apt to turn the gears in most state's education machinery. Twenty-one states have already done it. Tennessee and seven other states have raised the minimum age to 17. And those that remain stuck at 16, for whatever reason, apparently are not easily moved.

That's too bad. Whatever whiny arguments remain against raising the minimum school-leaving age -- classroom costs, controlling students, restraining truancy -- the benefits are too great to ignore. Here's the short list, according to research by education and economic professors Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse, reported Thursday in The New York Times:

Reduce the drop-out rate. Raising the minimum school-leaving age actually works to keep students in school longer and raise graduation rates. And that must be accomplished for both economic and social reasons. On the nation's current track, about 1.3 million students drop out of high school annually. Three out of 10 tenth-grade students in American schools do not graduate. About 20 percent of the drop-outs are white or Asian; 45 percent are blacks and Hispanics.

The high percentage of drop-outs relative to the graduation rates of our formidable economic competitors paints an increasingly bleak picture, and a more dismal economic future. The United States led the world in high school and college graduation rates in 1970. Recent figures compiled by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development show that the United States now lags behind 20 other nations in high school graduation rates, and behind 14 nations in the percentage of college graduates.

Social costs vs. economic benefits. Studies prove that students who fail to get a high school diploma usually fall far behind the economic curve of higher educational achievers. They earn less throughout their lives, cost taxpayers more in social expenditures related to public assistance, health care and crime, and produce far less tax revenue and job productivity gains than higher earners.

The flip side of that equation is equally obvious and well documented. Citizens and workers with high levels of educational achievement generally earn more, produce more in the their jobs, contribute more to social stability and stronger communities, generate higher tax revenue to the local, state and national economies, and raise the nation's rate of innovation and technological advances.

Levin and Rouse report that cutting the current high-school drop-out rate by just half would raise those graduates' life-time incomes by 50 percent to 100 percent, generating a net benefit to taxpayers of around $127,000 per graduate above the cost of programs designed to keep students in school longer. That amounts, they estimate, to nearly $90 billion for each year of success in keeping 700,000 more students in high school until they graduate, or around $1 trillion in net national benefits over 11 years.

Even if the net benefit fell short of that estimate, it is undeniably clear that a legal requirement to keep students in school to the age of 18 would yield a significant return in social health, welfare and economic and overall benefits.

States, of course, generally set their own educational course, and make their own rules. A president cannot mandate a national policy, but the president could tie federal benefits, particularly grants for Race to the Top funds, to a higher minimum school-leaving age. Obama may not choose to use that option, but the nation -- and especially the laggard states with lower school-leaving ages --would reap the benefits.

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But think of the sixteen and seventeen year old voters he's going to lose! Newt will snap them up with his janitorial staff policy!

January 28, 2012 at 12:45 a.m.
Haiku said...

sixteen and seventeen year olds can vote? When did that start?

For some youths 12 years of schooling aren't necessary. Many youths are mature enough to come out of school and begin their lives as adults at the age of sixteen and seventeen.

After sixth grade I'd already pretty much learned everything I needed to know to 1. go on to college 2. attend a trade or vocational school. 3. Or three go to work.

In fact, it was only a few decades ago, give or take, that America's youth already had enough skills by age sixteen or seventeen to begin their lives as adults. The rules may have changed, bu psychologically humans have remained the same.

Plus, if you're going to keep students in school longer, you must have something their to keep them interested in coming. After sixth grade, middle school is usually a dead zone, where nothing much is being taught. It was that way when I was in school. Things somewhat started to pick up again in nineth grade, but by then all that we'd learned in sixth grade that would have bridged us to what we were to be taught in nineth grade had pretty much been lost during those two or three years of not absence in learning in middle school (referred to as junior high in my day).

A well rounded learning experience should include much more than just the three R's. The experience just include lessons in the arts, such as music, and developing natural creativity skills, and introduction to world languages. These should be taught earlier on. As they were taught when I was in school. Because the earlier a child is exposed to various means of learning the more they will retain it later on in life. When we wait to teach a child music, foreign languages, expose them to artworks later in years, their brains have already solidified into that one track learning. And they are less likely to be able to comprehend and retain newer information.

January 28, 2012 at 9:09 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I would have preferred to see an accounting of how our own students were doing here in Tennessee. I have had some people tell me that as many as 50% of our high school students in some rural counties were not making it to graduation. I haven't seen any easy to find reports of what our graduation rates look like. I imagine that the state's Department of Education doesn't have any real success to crow about because the conditions are probably poor to dismal.

We also haven't been presented with a clear picture of how our students have been doing on a year to year basis in topics like reading, math and laboratory sciences.

This editorial might have been a good opportunity to showcase information like that. Instead, we read how our local editors are relying on a report from the New York Times. We can read The New York Times on our own. Conditions are probably different here.

Some primary research into our own educational condition would have made for better reading.

Advocating behavioral controls is a weak argument for extending anyone's participation in public education. It's not a babysitting service.

Adopting realistic educational goals and facing observably true conditions about our local students are two innovations we sorely need. Until those changes are made, we'll be stuck with the same cheap and lazy approach to schooling that we have now.

Our main local innovations have included ideas like "Slaves learned to read" and removing teenagers from public gatherings. Wake up and get real.

We don't need to fuss about raising the drop-out age. We need to face the fact that we have young people who are not students because we don't care.

January 28, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

When students are already falling behind at the primary level, they will never catch up. Most will give up and drop out at first chance. If they're going to fix the problem that's where the fixin' should begin, at the primary level.

I have to agree with H. When I was in school the foundation was laid at the primary level and everything went upward from there. Now there's disconnect from one year to the next. America's children are being confused. They're brains rewired wrongly at such a young age that when they get into high school it's like having a room full of German only speaking students being taught by a Russian only speaking teacher. The students have no idea what the teacher is saying.

January 28, 2012 at 8:58 p.m.
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