In some neighborhoods, maybe yours, it feels like high school dropouts and the challenges they face don't affect you. But, in reality, they do. They affect your car insurance rates. They affect your health insurance premiums. They affect you every time you pay your state taxes. Consider this: the strongest predictor of criminal activity is the lack of an education. And the cost of that criminal behavior? An average of $31,000 per inmate per year.
This week, Stand for Children is raising awareness about the over one million students who drop out of high school every year by asking the simple question: What about them? What about all the good kids who don't make it? How do we let this happen?
These are good people like Stand Texas member Maria Davilla. Maria used to like school. She had dreams of being a psychiatrist, of working on an office, of traveling and seeing the world. But then her grades starting slipping, she realized she was pregnant, and she started skipping school. Eventually, she dropped out. "I had all these dreams, "Maria told me. "But little by little, they slowly went away." She ended up working as a cashier at McDonalds.
Out of every hundred American students, 25 will fail to complete high school. For Latino students, 32 out of every 100 won't make it. For African American students, 39 students out of every 100 fail to graduate.
What about them?
To put it bluntly, their future is not promising. They are three times more likely to be unemployed than workers with a Bachelor's Degree. If these workers do find work, they'll earn an average of $20,000 a year, compared to $57,000 for workers with a Bachelor's Degree and $32,000 for workers with a high school diploma. They'll be less healthy, more likely to die young, and far more likely to rely on public assistance.
It absolutely doesn't have to be this way. Educators, school administrators, elected officials, nonprofit advocates and, of course, students themselves are fighting to improve these odds. And while it takes tremendous leadership and hard work by everyone involved, we know a lot about what works to improve graduation rates.
- First, districts and schools have to get serious about collecting real-time data that corresponds to graduation rates. The Miami-Dade District, which increased its graduation rates for African American and Latino students 14 percentage points, is obsessive about collecting data on students and then engaging in "data chats" about what could be improve to reach more students right now.
- Second, a lack of interesting classes and challenging material is one of the most cited incentives for dropping out. We need more challenging and more relevant standards, and higher expectations that all students can achieve these standards. And all districts should replicate the success of the Washington State district Federal Way. Their "Academic Acceleration" program automatically enrolled qualified students in advanced classes, regardless of their race or income. They've drastically increased the number of students of color and low-income students in challenging classes. And those students are succeeding.
- Third we need high quality early education. Participants in high quality early education are 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school than similar students without early education. (To see the full impact, look at what graduation rates would be if more states added high quality preschool).
- Fourth: we need to ensure teachers are exceedingly well-trained, supported, evaluated, and retained. Being taught by high-quality, well-supported educators puts kids on the road to graduation and college.
- Fifth: more schools need guidance counselors with manageable workloads. A recent study found that, by simply mailing high-achieving, low-income students information on college admissions, they were much more likely to apply for (and get accepted by) exclusive colleges. We should be providing this information on college and the future for all of our students so they can see what is possible and how they can get there.
- Last, we need to invest more dollars into the classroom to support these initiatives. This legislative session in Colorado, for example, education advocates and elected officials passed a funding bill to overhaul the school funding formula to direct more dollars to improving student achievement and to students who need it most.
Maria Davilla has a unique and inspiring story. After her own son was at risk of dropping out of high school she struck a deal with him: if he got his grades back to A's and graduated, she would go back to school. He finished, and she went back to school and graduated.
But over one million students every year have a less inspiring story. They drop out of school, and they drop out for good. Let's work together to support more students through school and onto college and a career. Our first step? Spreading the word about this problem and some solutions. Join us in this critical conversation.