Many studies have shown that graduating from high school and receiving a diploma is a good thing, especially from an economic perspective. As jobless rates remain high, Americans who lack a high school diploma suffer from even higher rates of unemployment than those who did graduate.
As of last year, the national unemployment rate was 9.7% (currently at 9.6% officially), and the unemployment rate among adults who lacked a high school diploma was 14.5%. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to the study of entry-level employment. EPI scholar Michael Saltsman pointed up some sobering facts regarding high school dropouts and their job prospects last year. While analyzing Bureau of Labor Statistics information collected between 1998 and 2007, EPI discovered that jobseekers without a high school diploma spent an average 154 more days unemployed than their counterparts with a diploma. The Institute also discovered that compared to workers with a bachelor’s degree, those lacking a high school diploma spent an average 315 additional days unemployed.
A brief glance to the right sidebar of this blog will show that readers here are primarily college- and graduate-school educated, a trend that has remained steady for over 2 years of Quantcast ratings. So, not very many people who failed to graduate from high school are likely to read this blog, and probably even fewer will seek out information prepared by policy research institutes like EPI.
Nationwide, many states, counties and cities are struggling to improve the gaps in education that seem to have grown wider over the past decade. When the national will came to favor universal public education in the 19th Century, and various educational reforms and movements led to much greater school accessibility throughout the 20th Century, nobody could have predicted that although education is accessible to all, free to all, and pretty much mandatory from ages 5-18, voluntary dropout rates of as high as 50% in districts like LAUSD, and other factors such as generational poverty and deteriorated inner-city or rural schools cause circumstances like those found in Yuma County, Arizona, where 27% of adults lack a high school diploma and literacy rates are not good.
Some studies and fact sheets on high school dropout rates include "chicken and egg" information - for example, the correlation between failure to complete high school and incarceration is quite high. However, there is little research to show that one characteristic (dropping out of high school) automatically causes the other (criminal behavior and incarceration).
According to the National High School Center, "Estimates indicate that approximately 30 percent of federal inmates, 40 percent of state prison inmates, and 50 percent of persons on death row are high school noncompleters." Did the inmates turn to crime because they were unable to obtain income through employment, preferably enjoyable and rewarding employment? Or did built-in traits or other concerns (including learning disability - many dropouts have undiagnosed and diagnosed learning disabilities) play a role in co-occurring criminal activity?
People politicize these issues, they use dropouts as weapons to bludgeon others for totally unrelated political or financial gain, and at the same time, dropouts impact virtually every social and public system at the local, state and Federal levels. Failing to graduate from high school will reduce the dropout's potential future earnings by as much as 75% less than those who do graduate. Those who graduate from college will earn much, much more.
As to today's debates about taxation and funding for education, the current dropout rates, regardless of what people believe to have caused them, are costing the public vast sums of money in lost tax revenue. According to the National High School Center, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Education, "America loses more than $26 billion in federal and state income taxes each year from the 23 million high school dropouts aged 18 to 65."
Now, again, I'm the math-usin' English teacher, so - with national dropout rates averaging what they are, I wonder about that 23 million figure. I believe there are more dropouts than that. But then, this type of math thinking is a little bit what's wrong with a few of our Federal and State departments and budgets. Uh Thinking.
What I'm trying to say is, I think that figure is only accounting for estimated taxes that would be received if the dropouts were able to work at full-time jobs paying more than the minimum wage. It's not accounting for the cost of services, funds and goods provided to the dropouts because they cannot easily find reliable, decent-paying employment. One way to parse the professional Educationalese that refers to "single mothers" and "early dropout rates" is - a lot of young women drop out of school because they become pregnant. They become teen mothers, and only a handful nationwide can be on MTV's Teen Mom.
This is the type of talk that this teacher uses to retain students to her classroom. What type of talk and assignments can teachers use to retain students to their high school and middle school classrooms?
Here is my opinion on the "It's the parents' fault that students are performing so poorly these days." Absentee parents, abusive parents, dropout-themselves parents (i.e. - it's only 5 years after "Teen Mom" when teen baby is ready for kindergarten, right?), foster homes, etc. Chicken-egg, chicken-egg. It is the teacher's responsibility to deal with whoever comes into their classroom. They have an education, a job, a classroom and a paycheck and benefits. So, students who have unskilled, unsupportive parents who could be standing in their child's way is a feature of the job these days. It's a part of the landscape. If you don't want to walk on that path, don't put on those shoes and stay indoors . . .
In other words, the students are dropping out of the classroom, and the solutions available to educators should be sought first in the classroom. It's like this: if I decide I want to be a supermodel like Zoolander, and I apply for dozens of agencies and am turned aside because I'm still a dozen pounds overweight and unfortunately really am not 5'6", not to mention I'm a little LONG IN THE TOOTH - is my solution to fix the entire world so that suddenly gnarled little creatures such as myself are the ideal of beauty, or is it to . . . uh . . . I'm just not going to be a supermodel, am I? But what can I do that I can do?
Some students may never be able to complete high school, and may not ever be able to compete in the 21st century economy. But we can and must educate and motivate more students than we're currently reaching. With some Districts experiencing a 50% dropout rate, and with some racial/ethnic communities also experiencing 40- and 50% dropout rates, the issue in my opinion is relevancy and care. Advocates for concepts like "Ebonics" had the right idea when they wanted to make education relevant and useful for students. However, their exclusive focus on unique language that wasn't "portable" to other environments was a hindrance to taking the high relevancy they created and moving into the "useful" category. At the same time, people who insist that "reading, writing and 'rithmatic" are mandatory are also correct.
Because education is about gaining practice, gaining skills and gaining ability and confidence in doing useful things. Work is by definition, doing something of use and benefit - to yourself and others. Therefore, K-12 public education doesn't need to cost less - it is already free to students and parents (I'm putting aside how nearly all schools require parent participation, volunteering and fundraising). It doesn't need to be more "accessible." It needs to be more relevant, and it needs to be unwilling to accept failure. It needs to meet students where they are and help them to move forward, not complain about where it wishes they could be.