Why do we have a law on the books dating back decades that makes
it legal for children to drop out of school at the age of 16?
Times have changed.
There was a time in Michigan and America where one could drop
out of school and get a good-paying job at the factory, join the
military or work on the family farm.
Those days are long gone. The factories have not hired someone
without a high school diploma, let alone a high school dropout,
in more than a decade.
The armed forces now require at least a high school diploma to
join, and people need exceptional skills and knowledge to be a
successful family farmer.
We have moved from a society where one needed to be able to
"lift" for a living to a society where you now need to "think"
for a living.
Given today's fast-paced global economy, to allow children to
leave school without the education they need and deserve is
"state-sponsored stupidity" at best and institutionalized
racism at worst.
If we had the horrific dropout statistics in our white,
middle-class suburbs as we do in American Indian, African
American, or Hispanic American
communities, Michigan citizens would be marching on Lansing
demanding that our lawmakers do something.
Yes, I proudly join Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm as an advocate
for raising the age to legally drop out or be pushed out of our
schools from 16 to 18. However, it is
far more than just raising the legal age one can drop out.
As responsible adults and educators, there is a moral, societal,
and economic imperative to develop
appropriate alternative programs to educate children so they
may, one day, support themselves and their
families, and fully participate in our democratic society.
We need to move beyond the old Henry Ford slogan, "You can have
any color of car you like - as long as it is black," and develop
a wide array of educational
opportunities for our kids.
one-size-fits-all educational system will quickly find itself on
the scrap heap of history.
propose setting a date in the future, such as 2006, for the
dropout age to move permanently from 16 to 18. This would give
our communities, and our schools, the
time to develop alternative school models, such as Mott Middle
College in Flint, that can reach students
at-risk for dropping out.
Let's not forget that this is one social problem with a built-in
solution. Under Proposal A, schools are funded by the number of
students attending; for every child
who drops out, the local school district loses a minimum of
$6,700. In Flint, the foundation allowance is even
higher - $8,879. If 100 students drop out, the Flint
Schools lose about $887,900, and each
child loses hope, opportunity and a future.
We need to do more that just change the law. We need to change
our attitudes, beliefs and our educational programs to meet the
needs of today's students.
ask, is it OK for a child to leave school at age 16 without an
education to survive and thrive in the 21st century?
The community and state that truly leaves no child behind will
also be the community and state that will rule economically. I
want Michigan to be that state.
Tom Watkins is Michigan superintendent of Public Instruction.