Raising Dropout Age Won't Fix the Core Problem
Detroit News, January 14, 2005
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Forcing troubled students to stay in school until they're 18 may
create more headaches for schools.
Raising the school dropout out to age 18, as Gov. Jennifer
Granholm proposes, is not a solution for the state's education
problems. The idea has a certain basic appeal, keep kids in
class longer and hope they grow up and realize the value of an
education. But it treats the symptom of the problem, not the
If a 16-year-old is determined to drop out, it generally signals
an uninterested student or one woefully behind in class. In
turn, that means that 10 years of education has failed to
instill the value of learning.
Two more years of school won't change that, but may make
learning harder for the students who do want to be in school. A
disruptive, detached student can drag down an entire class.
Teachers are already stretched to the limit; asking them to
police students who are just biding their time is too much a
That doesn't mean there's nothing the state can do about drop
A more extensive system of optional vocational and technical
training for 16-year-olds might be worthwhile. Lawmakers should
consider modifying the current system of community colleges to
accept students who feel they no longer fit in high schools.
Another option would be to require would-be dropouts to enroll
in GED certificate programs, often accepted as the equivalent of
a high school diploma.
Overall, dropouts have become a national problem, particularly
in big cities. Much of the dropout problem is concentrated in 35
of the largest cities, including Detroit, according to a study
by John Hopkins University. In Michigan, the number of ninth
graders who graduate in four years is estimated at between 65
and 73 percent, perhaps a bit higher depending on how a dropout
So the governor and Legislature ought to give the problem some
attention. At the time of the 2000 Census, 32 states allowed
leaving school at age 16. Since then, several states, including
Michigan, have proposed upping the age.
The verdict is still out on whether the higher drop-out age
leads to higher graduation rates.
Rather than forcing older students to stay somewhere they don't
want to be, schools should put more resources into early
intervention and motivating those students who chronically lag
behind. And to making students understand the dire consequences
of dropping out.
For those who leave high school without graduating, it's harder
to find a job, and earnings over a lifetime will be lower.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm this week listed the dropout age as
unfinished business that needs attention. Many state lawmakers
have doubts that changing the age will be of much value, and
that's why the proposal has languished.
Both sides are after the same thing - improving Michigan's
dismal graduation rate.
They ought to use that as a starting point for figuring out why
students drop out of high school, and what can be done to stop
that, short of chaining them to classroom seats.
Better that attention and resources be directed toward the early
school years, and non-traditional options to treat the cause of
the problem, not its symptoms.
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