Plan Aims to
Proposed reform won't let 16-year-olds quit school.
by Kim L. Hooper, The Indiana Star, October 5, 2003
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Raising the minimum age at which students can leave high school
without a diploma could improve Indiana's overall graduation
rate and reduce the number of dropouts statewide, according to a
The proposal is tucked inside a massive education reform plan
intended to link early childhood learning; elementary, middle
and high school instruction; and higher education.
Called Indiana's P-16 Plan for Improving Student Achievement,
the proposed restructuring is being considered as state
education officials implement a new way to calculate high school
"We can't improve on the number of kids going to college if we
lose them before they even get there by dropping out of high
school," said Stan Jones, the state's commissioner for higher
Later this month, Indiana's Education Roundtable is expected to
make final recommendations on the proposal. Among other goals,
it seeks to keep students in high school as long as possible --
and help them earn diplomas.
It's a costly reform, one that has yet to have a price tag
attached -- which bothers some who otherwise support the P-16
"The last time I looked, the state coffers weren't getting any
larger," said Pat Kiely, president of the Indiana Manufacturers
Association and a roundtable member. "If we don't take it
seriously, the legislature won't either, and it will be nothing
more than a plan on paper."
Because current graduation rates are essentially estimates based
on enrollment declines, Indiana has no way to form an accurate
picture of how many students drop out annually. State education
officials estimate that more than 20,000 high school students
don't graduate each year.
Under current law, a student can leave school for nonacademic
reasons at age 18. But state law also allows students to leave
as early as 16 with permission from parents or guardians.
The proposal would eliminate that provision and raise the
minimum dropout age to 18.
School officials say a change is needed to make it tougher for
students to quit prior to graduation. For low-income students,
getting full-time jobs to help out at home is a reason often
given for leaving.
"We need something we can use as leverage to keep these kids in
school and thinking more about college," said Indianapolis
Public Schools Superintendent Duncan Pat Pritchett.
National research shows that dropouts have fewer career options,
are typically stuck in low-paying jobs and have limited
opportunities to go to college.
And according to the P-16 Plan, student dropouts can cost
taxpayers as much as $500,000 in public assistance, health care
and incarceration costs over 30 years. By contrast, a high
school diploma can add nearly $500,000 in earning potential
during a worker's career, the proposal says.
"The equation has changed. Every single child who has a better
education has more earning power and a better lifestyle," said
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate
Education and Career Development Committee.
"If we don't give them the tools, we're kind of dooming them to
be less than successful," Kenley said.
Another tool that could help is the change in how the state
calculates the number of students earning diplomas.
For years, school districts were required to report only
students who formally withdrew from high school as dropouts.
Those who stopped showing up for classes with no explanation
The calculation -- called a survival rate -- also took the
number of high school dropouts per grade level over four years
and multiplied them to come up with an overall percentage.
Education officials acknowledge the method was flawed and
produced an inflated graduation rate.
Preliminary data kept by the Indiana Department of Education for
2001-02 list the graduation rate as 91 percent. But a recent
study by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think
tank, puts the state's rate at 74 percent, among the lowest in
The new calculation, which started with the freshman class of
2002, tracks students annually starting in ninth grade and over
four years, with adjustments made for those who withdraw for
nonacademic reasons. By 2006, when that class graduates, state
officials hope to have their first accurate count of dropouts.
Educators think both the changes in dropout age and how the
state calculates the number of graduates are good in light of
state and federal mandates for school improvement and
"The graduation rate is one of the things we're going to be
judged by. . . . This gives us a benchmark formula to work
from," said Franklin Central High School Principal Kevin Koers.
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