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Education in Crisis; The High Cost of High School Dropouts, Part 1

Does anyone see the relationships between?

  • Poor parenting skills and high school dropouts?
  • Dysfunctional schools, teaching skills, and high school dropouts?
  • Teacher unions, their teachers, and a deteriorating educational system?
  • Budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels, and the increasing dropout rates?
  • High school dropouts and their endless cycle of poverty?
  • Every American’s stake in ensuring that every child becomes a high school graduate, prepared for success, the modern workplace, and life?

These questions are directly related to the high cost to society when parents fail to parent, teachers fail to teach, unions protect non performing teachers who drive students out of our schools, and Americans fail to see their stake in every child receiving an education that enables them to succeed and contribute.

First, let me begin with a definition of the high cost of school dropouts as Part One of the next series of posts and how they negatively impact local, state, and federal governments, the financial security of our country, and our society in general.

For decades Americans have been warned that U.S. dominance in the world’s economy is fading because of the country’s poor educational performance. Among the largest educational shifts is that educational requirements of the jobs that supported our previous economy are changing. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 90% of new high-growth, high-wage jobs will require some post secondary education, in comparison to decades past, when even a high school dropout could find a position in the manufacturing or agricultural sectors that would have supported a family in a middle class lifestyle. Today the many jobs that were held by dropouts or people with high school diplomas are being automated or are going overseas. The minimally educated American will have increasingly diminished options to support themselves or their families.

As I said in an earlier post, more than seven thousand students become dropouts every school day. That adds up to 1.2 million students annually who will not graduate from high school with their peers. This is equal to the entire population of Dallas and San Diego. These individuals are more likely than graduates to spend their lives periodically unemployed, on government assistance, or cycling through our prisons. “Over the next twenty-five years the challenges are unlikely to diminish. The world will continue to change, and good jobs will require even higher levels of education. The retirement of the baby boom generation will create even more demand for new well-educated candidates to replace them in the workforce.” (Alliance for Excellence in Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

The nation’s secondary schools graduate only 60% of their students (National Education Association). If they graduated all of their students the payoff would be significant. For example, if the students who dropped out of the Class of 2009 had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefitted from nearly $355 billion in additional income over the course of their lifetimes.

In contrast to those students who drop out, high school graduates live longer, are less likely to be teen parents, and more likely to raise healthier, better educated children. Children from parents without high school degrees are less likely to graduate from high school than children whose parents are graduates. High school graduates are more likely to engage in community activity like voting and volunteering in their communities and at higher levels.

Cecilia Rouse, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University, conducted research in 2005 which shows that each dropout over their lifetime costs the country approximately $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. Unless high schools are able to graduate their students at higher rates, nearly 13 million students will drop out over the next decade. The result will be a loss to the country of $3 trillion.

Think of the impact of high dropout rates on all of us:

High school dropouts influence a community’s economic, social, and civic standing.

  • There are significantly lower local, state, and federal tax revenues.
  • States find it hard to attract new businesses with a less educated population.
  • Crime and incarceration increases.
  • A strain on community services and social programs becomes a burden to society.
  • The country’s economy and competitive standing suffer in the world.
  • Medical facilities and Medicaid are strained beyond capacity.
  • Dropouts represent a tremendous loss of human potential and productivity.
  • They decrease the country’s ability to compete in an increasing global economy.

Bill Gates has called them “obsolete.” Oprah Winfrey has said that the nation is in a “state of emergency” because of them. Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Ron Paige, has called them an “unrecognized educational crisis.”

These distinguished Americans are discussing America’s high schools.

Part Two of my next Post.

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