Dropout crisis

NPR’s series, School’s Out: America’s Dropout Crisis, will depress the perkiest listener. Each part focuses on a young person from a very troubled (typically fatherless) family who has dropped out or seems likely to give up soon.

Dropouts are more likely to live in poverty and on welfare, do time behind bars, etc. But NPR doesn’t deal with the chicken-and-egg question:  Do the traits that lead to dropping out also lead to failure in life? Could these kids have been saved if they’d been persuaded to stay in school another year or two to complete a diploma?

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Due to the racial imbalance in dropout numbers, the chicken-egg question is off the table.
    The implication is, must be, that if a diploma can be implanted, possibly while the kid is distracted, all will be well.
    This view also implies the need for more programs and more money, so what’s not to like.

  2. I wonder. Maybe we’d be better off if we pushed students out of school rather than try to keep them.

    And eliminate AFDC and other forms of welfare.

    I really don’t have all the facts and I’m open to being persuaded otherwise, but in the cases I’ve seen, AFDC and similar programs do more harm than good.

    Students are jumping out of school because there’s a safety net.

    Let’s give that safety net a second thought.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah. In the old days, it was simpler. One scholar said that a shelter of some type in, say, 1870 would suggest to a guy showing up for a meal that he cut some wood for an hour, that being how they heated the building and water and cooked and so forth. If he didn’t want to cut wood, he didn’t need to eat badly enough. They could save their resources for those who did need help.
    Today, when drug-testing is said to dehumanize and degrade the “clients”, that sort of means testing wouldn’t fly.

  4. Private charity has a history of discriminating between those worthy of help and those who do not deserve help (author of own misfortunes, lazy, whatever); government aid does not. Private charity, often church-run, used to expect recipients to work to the limits of their capacity; sewing, cleaning, cooking, small repairs, gardening, running errands, (yes, chopping wood) etc. Even in my childhood, it was known that certain families were in need and they would be the ones who cleaned the church or made repairs and they were called when parishioners needed to hire short-term help; I remember Mrs. C coming to help an injured neighbor with spring cleaning.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    You can just hear the rhetorical question; Who are we to judge?
    Sneering tones: “Worthy!’ “Unworthy!” “Who’s supposed to make that decision, you?”

  6. I know of several girls who come from middle class families but were raised as spoiled brats. They flunked out of school because they were lazy and were too proud to hear a teacher tell them what to do, like, maybe be silent during a lecture or sit in an assigned seat, or put away their cell phones. Out of pressure from parents who were tired to paying for their drugs, tobacco and alcohol, the girls got pregnant knowing that if their boyfriends got tired of giving them money, they could always collect AFDC. On top of that, the parents were able to collect a very generous sum for providing daycare while the girls were out looking for work, or at least that’s what they said they were doing.

    This isn’t jut one case, or two, but several.

    I’m not concerned about money for young people who need a second or third or forth chance. I’m not concerned that my tax dollars are spent because other people made mistakes, mistakes I would never make.

    I’m concerned more about how the system of assistance has created a syndrome of dependence.

    I can’t help but think some tough love is in order.

    Are parents going to kick out their kids when the state is giving them thousands of dollars for daycare? Are they going to think twice about making babies when they know the state will pay for all the cute clothes, pampers and formula?

    At my school, when a student forgets to bring his lunch, he can get a free one with a promise to pay for it later. But it wasn’t a regular lunch. It was peanut butter between two pieces of bread, a white milk, and an apple. Not the most exciting lunch.

    It was a system that didn’t determine who was worthy. It was a system that determined who was actually hungry.

    Anybody who turned up his nose at a peanut butter sandwich–without jelly–could’t really be that hungry.

    Because everybody knew what you’d get if you forgot your lunch, a lot more students remembered to bring their lunch or pay for a regular one.

    So, my idea is to stop trying to get students to graduate and start aggressively kicking them out instead. Eliminate AFDC and childcare stipends to family members.

    How to reduce the dropout rate? Kick them out before they drop out.

    And then what do you do to them? Send them to a regimented alternative school.

    And if they drop out of that? Have them life at home until their parents kick them out.

    And then what? Let them be homeless.

    Having homeless young people doesn’t improve our society, but does it improve it having girls sitting at home, watching TV, eating Hot Cheetos, using AFDC to pay for tattoos, and allowing their parents to collect thousands of dollars of extra income by filing papers claiming they provide childcare?

    A high drop out rate isn’t bad. It might mean the school means business.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Robert. Your last sentence; impressive.

    Have a friend in the area who was talking about his dtr’s HS graduating class. Several, more than several, of her classmates weren’t graduating. Just dropped all effort their senior year. Came from middle-class families.
    What do they think they’re going to do, I asked. He said that, as far as he knew, they hadn’t bothered to wonder.

  8. Robert Wright, your plan sounds interesting, but it rests upon what I think are two flawed assumptions. One is that the states will eliminate or reduce compulsory attendance laws–there is zero political will to do this, as far as I can tell. Two, it’s somewhat doubtful that these millions of newly homeless teens are going to go quietly on their way and not overwhelm our healthcare and criminal justice complexes. Just to give one example, my state spends almost $50K/yr to house a juvenile inmate.

    I do agree that the biggest problem facing public education is students who have no interest in being in school to learn.

  9. Tim, that’s an interesting point about compulsory attendance laws.

    Legally, students can’t drop out, but I don’t think the law is often enforced, especially for older students.

  10. I would want compulsory attendance laws to be revoked. The money saved from educating less children could be put into adult education, for those that weren’t ready or motivated in HS but decide to go back at a later point in their life.

  11. It’s almost crippling to not have a HS diploma. I think a more realistic plan would be to create learning options (probaly vocational, probably some form of work-study inlcuded so kids could start earning). The reason so many young people drop out (and at least as many start phoning it in even though the eventually graduate) is that we’re offering them something they don’t want, something that does not align well with their talents, and something that postpones adulthood too far into the future.

  12. A high school diploma today is essentially worthless, in many cases it just says that a student who holds one spent 4 years in school passing coursework. In reality, many students lack the needed skills to hold down an entry level job due to a complete lack of knowledge about how the ‘real world’ (not academia) actually works.

    In the real world of work, you need to show up at a given time, need to be able to take and carry out directions, and generally be able to show you can function with your co-workers. Many persons right out of high school (and some older adults) don’t bother to phone into work when they’re going to be late, want to spend time at work socializing with their friends or text messaging the entire shift, and have no concept of handling assigned tasks).

    What are dropouts going to do, in the next 10-20 years, not very much of anything which requires reading, writing, and basic math skills.

    As a side note, the military doesn’t take high school dropouts any more, and a GED holder needs a minimum ASVAB score of 65 just to qualify (30 years ago, a high school dropout could join with no problem), but according to a recruiter I know, they don’t want dropouts, due to the fact if they didn’t have the discipline to make it through high school, how do they expect to make it through a 4 to 6 year enlistment with a total 8 year commitment per the contract they sign?

    Also, I like how everyone is using ‘compulsory attendance’ instead of ‘compulsory education’, cause I don’t see much educating going on at all. We raised our dropout age to 17 or 18 here, but I don’t seem much enforcement (except to tie drivers licenses to high school attendance, which goes away when the person turns 18).

  13. BB, to succeed in most work-study or vocational education programs today requires a solid knowledge of reading, writing, and math. Many vocational ed programs in college require business or technical writing, math skills (though algebra or higher), and technical coursework (which the high school student would need to master just to have a shot at possibly succeeding).

    How many students do you think would succeed in such programs, if they could be implemented in high schools (usually not possible due to budget cuts, safety/liability issues, etc).

  14. I have to disagree that a high school diploma is worthless. In fact, I think it is like anything else in life, you get what you put into it. While kids are droping out at an alarming rate, many are working their way through high school, college and beyond. As much as we blame the schools, the students and the parents are just as accountable.