September 30, 2009 Reducing the High School Dropout Rate
The California State Senate has passed a bill aimed at reducing the high school dropout rate, which has the support of both political parties and is before the governor for his signature. This bill, if signed into law, requires the Department of Education to track and report dropout trends, early warning signs, etc., so corrective steps can be taken before it is too late for these vulnerable students.
Senate Bill 651, authored by Gloria Romero and Darrell Steinberg, attempts to help solve this state's problem with dropouts. Data from 2007-2008 indicates that 18.9 percent of the student population failed to meet their basic educational requirements, and I strongly suspect that the dropout rate for the last 12 months is even worse. Nationwide, 85 percent of students graduate from high school. Here in Stanislaus County, only 75 percent of students graduate, and the present trend hints that in the coming years, the percentage of students graduating will likely continue to decline. This does not bode well for the economy of this area, the crime rate or the overall quality of life in the years to come.
The reasons for dropping out are many. Some of the more common ones are that families, social networks or the communities themselves do not place a high value on education. Poverty is a factor, as well as language barriers, peer pressure, teenage pregnancy, broken families and a shortage of educated role models, which are all causative factors.
The Sierra Madre Weekly recently published an article that, among other things, suggests that high school dropouts are "Three times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to be in jail or prison." In extrapolating this data, according to the article, "…increasing the graduation rate by 10 percent could prevent up to 500 homicides and 22,864 aggravated assaults." Dropouts earn less income over their lifetimes, tend to be more dependent on social welfare and pay less in taxes. Dropouts are also more likely to be violent and abuse drugs.
School campus security is likely to be an issue for consideration as well. It is well known that violence, thefts, harassment, gang activity, vandalism and the like detract from the learning environment. A safe campus is essential to the learning process. School campuses have transmogrified into environments that are now less than safe. The money that is now being spent on security personnel, police and other safety measures as a matter of necessity, if not for the crime problems, would be much better spent on the educational process itself instead of paying for peripheral needs like security.
Many more details about crime, the dropout rate, its causative factors and proposed solutions can be found by going online to the California Dropout Research Project which is a study conducted under the auspices of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Senate Bill 651 is no panacea for the dropout problem in this state, but it appears to be a good start. The simple act of calling public attention to this state's overall poor academic achievement (in comparison to some other states), is by itself helpful. I urge voters to become familiar with the bill and vote according to their sensibilities. And for all persons of this state, it is critical to our collective societal future to have a population comprised of educated people who can earn more, have fewer adverse impacts on themselves and society itself, and can help bring this state back to the forefront of innovation, productivity and prosperity. If present educational trends are not reversed, our lot in life will most certainly continue to deteriorate.