The cost of drop-outs

Boosting high school graduation rates would save taxpayers $127,000 per student, estimates a Teachers College study. Cutting the drop-out rate in half would boost tax revenues and lower health, crime, law enforcement and welfare costs by $45 billion annually, conclude the researchers.

“The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for America’s Children” calls for increasing graduation rates the hard way — by teaching students better, not just handing diplomas to students who haven’t earned one. Five cost-effective education models are recommended:

· Perry Pre-School … provides children with 1.8 years of a center-based program for 2.5 hours per weekday, offering a child-to-teach ratio of 5:1; home visits; and group meetings of parents. The researchers estimate that, implemented on a broad scale, Perry’s benefit-to-cost ratio would be 2.31 to 1, and that it would create an additional 19 new high school graduates per 100 students.

· Class-size reduction. This approach – based on the parameters of Project Star, a four-year, randomized field trial in Tennessee – would include four years of schooling (from kindergarten through third grade) with class size reduced from 25 to 15. The researchers estimate that, implemented on a broad scale, class-size reduction along these lines would achieve a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.46 to 1, and that it would create an additional 11 new high school graduates per 100 students.

· First Things First, a comprehensive school reform of small learning communities that includes dedicated teachers, family advocates and instructional improvement. FTF would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.54 to 1 and create an additional 16 high school graduates per 100 students.

· Chicago Child-Parent Center Program. A center-based preschool program with parental involvement, outreach and health/nutrition services, based in public schools. This approach would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.09 to 1 and create an additional 11 high school graduates per 100 students.

· Teacher salary increase of 10 percent for all years K-12. This approach would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.55 to 1 and create an additional five high school graduates per 100 students.

Implementing the most cost-effective models would not be trivial. Look at what happened to Perry Preschool, the inspiration for the not-very-effective Head Start program.

I’d be interested in Richard Colvin’s take on the preschool recommendations. Can we replicate Perry or the Chicago program?

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    The average income of people who speak English is $20,000. The averasge income of people who don’t is $5,000. Therefore, we can increase the wealth of the world almost 4 times by teaching everyone English. That is a ridiculous idea; everyone can see why it is wrong.

    Alas, the Teacher’s College study makes the exact same logical error. People who graduate high school are reasonably organized, motivated, hard-working, and smart. To a very large extent, school doesns’t make people successful. Rather, successful people make school look good. They do well in school as they will in other aspects of life.

    Unproductive people “cost” the economy a lot but they are not unproductive because they didn’t finish school. They didn’t finish school because they are not productive.

    Heroic efforts to help peoplel finish school may make them more productive. But there may be many other more appropriate ways. The idea that everyone has to be academic is a silly one–though not surprising coming from those who make their living that way.

  2. Linda Seebach says:

    The other problem with these expensive interventions is that their cost-benefit ratios go down the more broadly they are applied. With Perry, for example, the children were extremely disadvantaged, so the financial benefits came from such things are reducing the percentage of people who had five or more lifetime arrests from — I think I am remembering this correctly — from 55 percent to 39 percent. Spend the same amount of money on a population where the lifetime arrest rate is already much lower with no intervention and you don’t get the same payoff.

    The Perry material is well worth reading, because so much of the rhetoric about the benefits of early childhood education ultimately derive from its reported successes but the people citing it do not know that it is inapplicable to any other population. Denver just passed a sales tax increase to fund expanded ECE and the advocates relied almost exclusively on Perry and its descendants.

    The early childhood nurse visitor program has a much larger impact than any of these, it’s been replicated in diverse populations and extensively peer-reviewed, but of course the money doesn’t go to teachers so it was, unsurprisingly, overlooked by the study.

    (And if some state did all five of these things, would the number of high school graduates increase by 66 for each 100 students?)

  3. wayne martin says:

    The study claims:

    o) Perry Pre-School: would create an additional 19 new high school graduates per 100 students.

    o) Class-size reduction. with class size reduced from 25 to 15 would create an additional 11 new high school graduates per 100 students.

    o) First Things First would produce 16 high school graduates per 100 students.

    o) Chicago Child-Parent Center Program would produce 11 high school graduates per 100 students.

    o) Teacher salary increase of 10 percent for all years K-12. would create an additional five high school graduates per 100 students.

    The current national dropout rate is about 70%, meaning that we’d be looking for an increase of 30% in “new high school graduates”.

    In the case of the Perry Pre-School, 19 new students per 100 is 19%, which is about 65% of the current drop-outs could be “saved” by this program alone. First-things-first is claiming 16% (or over half of the current dropouts). The Chicago Child-Parent Center claims it can increase the high school graduation rate by 11% and teachers’ salary increases will increase high school graduation rate by 5% per $10K increase.

    The first four programs don’t come with price tags, but the teacher salary increase can be predicted. In this case, a 60% increase in teacher salaries would produce a 30% increase, bring the US total high school graduation rate to 100%.

    At 100% graduation rate, it would seem that most of the problems with the US school system would be solved. Maybe this is the way to go.

  4. This is advocacy that is disguised as science. This is not a meta-analysis of all the relevant research, but rather a series of recommendations based upon a very limited list of past research that supports their policy objectives. A review of their reference list shows that the research that they use to justify the advantages is quite slim, that the large majority of references deal with the costs associated with not graduating from high school. Perhaps the most egregious example is teacher salary increases. They site a single study from 2000 to substantiate the increase will result in an increase of 5 high school graduates per 100 students. But the study’s authors only suggest an increase of 3-4%, and acknowledge that in reality it would likely be less because they failed to account for any collinear factors that positively influence student high school completion. Frankly I would like to see Eric Hanushek or Caroline Hoxby’s take on this study.

  5. Richard Brandshaft says:

    I Second Mr. Sweeny. Confusing correlation with causality comes up again and again and again…

    Ms. Seebach is also right, but I don’t see her comment as a show-stopper. Help has the most benefit for those most in need of help.

    The final answer is: we won’t really know until we try it. If something seems to be working on a small scale, it makes sense to try it on a larger scale. If it still seems to work, try it on a still larger scale, etc. The conservative answer is that money may be wasted so nothing should be done — even when the cost of doing nothing is known to be high.

  6. Catch Thirty Thr33 says:

    It really is too bad that a high school diploma doesn’t mean a damn thing these days anyway. But then, why should it mean anything when the focus of high school is athletics/extracurricular activities/social events?

    (That, and for those who HAVE a desire to succeed outside the scope of that focus, the emphasis at all costs is just doing enough to Get Them Into College, rather than bother teaching them while in high school.)

  7. tim from texas says:

    Yes, Catch. I’ll repeat it until I’m blue in the face, that the first 4 years of college, for the most part, are just a tax. Pay more money for something that should have already been accomplished. Then on top of that pay $150 for each text that won’t be covered after paying through the nose for texts k-12 that were never covered. Not to mention lousy texts-almost all.

    As for, sports and its advocates, well, they never fullfilled their promise. Sure there are some Paternos out there, but not many.