Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The High School Dropout Problem

Says here that only 59% of black students graduate from high school, compared to 80% of whites. Both numbers are abysmally low.

Statistically, part of the problem is how we account for dropouts. Does a GED count? They've technically dropped out of school, even though they've completed a certificate. However, studies show that people with a GED earn less than people with a diploma, but more than those with neither.

Either way, this is a manifold problem. First, dropouts harm themselves. They're likely to earn much less throughout their lifetime. Second, without the basic skills of a high school diploma, dropouts often cannot make it in 21st knowledge jobs. They're only prepared for low-wage service jobs. Yet, America is about to face a worker shortage as an estimated 77 million Baby Boomers begin retiring. Replacing Baby Boomers with high school dropouts is not a recipe for economic success.

Third, this increases the need for high-skilled immigration. Now, personally, I'm all for letting in people that will make my (and your) life better and richer. I say, have at it. But, please recognize how various public policy issues, such as high school dropouts tie-in with seemingly unrelated issues like immigration.

A classical liberal arts education (i.e. Shakespeare, history and grammar) matters, but so does retention and teaching 21st century skills. Whoever the next president is should reconnoiter the federal education system to place more emphasis on retention and teaching 21st century skills. Better yet, would be local and state officials taking the lead in developing new methods of retention. It might mean changing the curriculum, changing the schedule, the teachers, the teaching medium, requiring parental involvement. Whatever. Just do it.

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