There is a new push on to raise the minimum high school dropout age in Kentucky to 18. We have some major problems with that idea, like it doesn’t really work very well.
Here is one reason why, which we first wrote about back in 2009 when an Associated Press (AP) article came out about the fact that high school dropouts can often be spotted by the fourth grade.
There is a reason for this. Through the first three grades, kids are supposed to be taught to read. After that point, kids are expected to be able to read to learn. Reading instruction as such largely ceases from grade four onward.
So, if a child is still a weak reader or a non-reader in the fourth or later grades, his or her ability to learn is largely hobbled. Failing to get a diploma becomes almost inevitable.
o We have plenty of non-readers in Kentucky. That is thanks in part to our ill-advised policy of allowing a huge percentage of kids to be labeled as learning disabled and then reading them all their tests afterwards – reading tests included!
o Our jails are heavily populated with non-readers, as well. If you can’t read, the chances of getting and holding a job are miniscule.
So, here is the bottom line:
After looking at the research, the Bluegrass Institute believes the high school dropout problem often starts in elementary schools. Raising the dropout age to 18, or even 21, does nothing to fix this problem. It just traps a lot of older teens in a place where they feel uncomfortable, frustrated and un-served. That not only could drive up school costs – A LOT – without any real benefit, but it could create a serious breeding ground for the types of violent reactions that recently exploded in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Simplistically passing a law that more or less incarcerates older kids in school for another two years mostly just makes schools into a kind of first-level penal system, a system that many of the affected kids will probably leave just to enter our real penal system.
If we are going to successfully deal with dropouts – and make no mistake, we do need to do that – we need to find ways to help these kids succeed in school and want to be there.