August 18, 2008

Dropout Rate Comes With A High Price Tag For All

By Jacques Gibble

In June, 490 McCaskey High School seniors graduated. The previous year, as a junior class, it had 723 students. As a sophomore class it had 911 members and as freshman class there were 1,128 students.

The senior class of 2007 launched 525 graduates but had 1,060 students when it was in ninth grade.

In other words, of the almost 2,200 freshman who entered McCaskey in the classes of 2007 and 2008, only 1,005 graduated (

Where is the community concern about these young people? Numbers such as these are unacceptable in a country where it is essential that all students achieve a high level of literacy.

"We have a genuine national crisis," President Bush has said. "More and more, we are divided into two nations. One that reads and one that doesn't. One that dreams and one that doesn't."

At a macroeconomic level of international competitiveness, we have to ask, "How will we maintain our current economic world leadership when so many of our young people will not be able to contribute to that leadership?" We know high levels of citizen- literacy are critical to achieving a sustainable competitive advantage in the global economy.

At the microeconomic level, we need to ask, "What will be the lifestyles of these young people when they are unskilled or semi- skilled workers in 2020?" We know that one's literacy levels affect his quality of life by creating the capacity to gain employment and a rewarding job.

When 4 million enter eighth grade but 1 million do not graduate, and when 50 percent of minority students do not complete high school with a regular diploma, our system creates needless economic baggage that someone must carry. The Department of Labor reports that 41 percent of the high school dropout population was working in July 2003 compared to 61 percent of high school graduates. Forty percent of 16-to-24-years-olds who lack a diploma received some type of government assistance in 2005.

The Department of Justice reports that 75 percent of America's state prison inmates are high school dropouts; 59 percent of America's federal prison inmates did not complete high school. Nationwide, about 82 percent of jail and prison inmates are dropouts.

Dropouts are more likely to live in poverty, join gangs and use drugs. They are more than eight times as likely to be in jail as a person with a diploma. This results in a lifetime cost for a dropout who moves to a life of crime and drugs of between $1.7 to $2.3 million.

We know a tremendous amount about the young people who drop out, why they do so, and how they can be helped to stay in school. We just don't do it.

We know that the greatest loss, 7.9 percent, occurs between ninth and 10th grade. We know that dropouts do not suddenly decide to drop out. The final decision is usually the result of years of feeling alienated from school.

We know that while poor academic performance is the single strongest predictor for dropping out, we also know that many dropouts were bored and saw no connection between school and their lives or aspirations.

We know that the stereotypical description of a dropout as "not too bright" or "lazy" are incorrect. A 2006 study of young people by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported that the "vast majority had passing grades and were confident that they could have graduated from high school. ...[T]wo-thirds said they would have worked harder to graduate if their schools had demanded more of them and provided the necessary academic and personal supports to help them succeed."

We know that every 26 seconds one student drops out of a public high school.

We know how to keep these students motivated to stay in school. America's Promise Alliance tells us that:

Young people need encouragement and direction from caring adults, including parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, youth volunteers and neighbors."

Young people stay in school when they have an effective education.

Young people stay in school when they have a chance to make a difference in their families, at schools and in their communities. Opportunity through service instills not only a sense of responsibility, but of possibility.

The challenge has been with us for years but we now have the know- how to meet it. Keeping kids motivated and learning in school is a job for the entire community. We can change this situation when we begin, together, to do what we know. One place to start is the America's Promise Alliance Dropout Prevention Summit ( to be held Nov. 13 in Pennsylvania.

Jacques Gibble, a retired instructor from Penn State's York campus, is a leadership consultant. E-mail him at [email protected]

(c) 2008 Intelligencer Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.