Requiring school attendance through age 18, as proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union speech, won’t make a difference, argues teacher Marilyn Rhames in Ed Week. Students drop out mentally long before high school — as early as third grade, she writes. By high school, it’s exceptionally difficult to save the 16-year-old illiterate or the 16-year-old expecting her second baby or the 16-year-old who “doesn’t feel safe at school because of bullying or gang activity.”
Reform efforts to lower the high school dropout rate must be focused on supporting the under-performing students in elementary and middle schools. This is where we can get the best bang for our buck. Of course, high schools would also need systems in place to continue to motivate students to stay in school. I believe that it is never too late to try to help a student, but by the time students prone to dropping out reach high school, they may be in need of an organ transplant—a radical, life-changing intervention. Just forcing him to spend a couple more miserable years in school until he reaches 18 is just prolonging the inevitable, especially if the learning credits are not there.
Some 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year, Rhames writes.