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Article of Interest - Dropouts

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: 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 root.

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 burden.

That doesn't mean there's nothing the state can do about drop outs.

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 is defined.

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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