Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Massachusetts Should Lower, Not Raise, the Dropout Age

Under a propsal to be announced today by a special state commission,

Massachusetts students would be required to stay in school until age 18 ... , part of a broader effort to halve the state’s high school dropout rate.

This is a terrible idea.

The best path for many 16-17 year olds is not high school but vocational tech, apprenticehip, or even a minimum wage job. Additional schooling is good for some 16-17 year olds; that does not mean it is good for everyone.

A higher dropout age will in any case do little to keep students in school; many already drop out before legally permitted because enforcement is lax, and the resources to enforce an even higher age would be substantial. Those resources are better employed serving the students who want to be in school.

Students forced to stay in school, moreover, especially at ages 16-17, can be disruptive or even dangerous to other students.

The right policy change, therefore, is to lower the dropout age, or even eliminate it. Raising it to 18 will waste resources and reduce school quality for those who want to learn.

21 comments:

John said...

I gotta say that you are absolutely right. I did program evaluation in an urban school district for 6 years and came to the conclusion that the worst situation in the high schools was the presence of dead weight. I would attempt to broach the argument that many of these young men and women would be better served by putting them down a meaningful vocational path OR just let them find their own way. But with the presence of NCLB with its graduation rate requirements added to their belief that the educational system is the shining light for all, malcontents, thugs, and the misplaced are REQUIRED to stay in school with no added benefit to them while constituting a negative externality for the other students. Again the NCLB framework provides perverse incentives to educational administrators to keep these students in the schools in the hope of providing the district/school better graduation rates and tests scores--criteria against which they are judged at the state and federal levels.

DUB and BOBBY said...

I agree

Dylan said...

While I agree I with your fundamental argument, how do you reconcile pressures from home and the child's immaturity? A 16 year old can be very myopic, and drop out without realizing the consequences.

Darcy said...

While there will no doubt be students that drop out with realizing the consequence these are likely to be the students who are disruptive in the class room and do not want to be there anyways. Furthermore, there are many students whose value to society is better served by beginning to work at a minimum wage job or in an apprenticeship program. The students who would drop out a 16 without fully understanding the consequences are the same ones will drop out at 18 regardless. So mandating that students stay in school until 18 just keeps students who do not want to be there and whose value to society is better served outside the classroom in a setting where they can be disruptive and as John said a negative externality on the other students. One may argue that many students at 16 are not mature enough to make the decision but I say that if at 16 you have not figured out what it takes to succeed in school you never will.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone should go to college. A vocational or apprenticeship program would do well to full the ranks with skilled and unskilled workers. We will always need workers to do all of the service jobs not requiring a college education that we have come to rely on in our country.

Arnie Kriegbaum said...

I teach in a public California high school. It is a failed organization that doesn't properly instruct and expand the mind of those interested in doing that. My school also keeps captive the non-academic talents of those who are desperate to find a place where personal success can give meaning to their life instead ( for example ) of having to fail Algebra 3 and 4 times.

Anonymous said...

There are many students who have special needs, including Asperger's, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders etc. Although these students can be very bright the stress of a school environment can be overwhelming. Even so called special needs schools can not always handle this population or choose not to. These students would be so much better off learning how to maneuver the world and the workplace vs sitting in classrooms that are not serving them as the law requires.

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