Helping Students Graduate

08/26/2009  |  Franklin Schargel

No Child Left Behind has placed a great deal of pressure on schools and school districts to lower dropout rates, increase their school graduation rate and narrow the achievement gap. In addition most states have raised their educational standards in order to become more globally competitive. The Gates Foundation has called the crisis, The Silent Epidemic. And it is. Every school day 171 school buses loaded with children leave school never to return. That is our daily school dropout rate.

While all states, urban, suburban and rural areas have school dropouts, the largest concentration of them is in the South and West. The latest data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and Education Week state that Georgia and New Mexico have the lowest high school graduation rate. South and North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, California, and Florida closely follow them.

There is no greater educational loss than a student who drops out of school prior to graduation. Unlike previous generations, students who fail to graduate are not easily absorbed into the economy.

America’s dropout problem extracts a huge cost from the nation. It is a loss to the student, his family, the education and support services community and the nation. For instance, if the students who dropped out of the class of 2007 had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefited from an additional $329 billion in income over their lifetimes.

With each dropout, our nation ultimately suffers losses of tax revenue, gainful employment, and heightened costs of welfare, as well as elevated drug and alcohol use and the increased likelihood of incarceration. According to Census Bureau estimates, each high school dropout earns $18,900 per year. The average high school graduate earns $23,400 per year. (A difference of $4500). Jobs for high school graduates have been decreasing since 1999. If high school dropouts had completed high school they would increase their lifetime earnings by $200,000.

High School graduates earn 70% more than dropouts do. Those who hold bachelor degrees earn more than 2 1/2 times more than dropouts. Dropouts earn one quarter of those with a Masters degree. Not surprisingly, eighty-two percent of America’s prisoners are high school dropouts.

Dropping out (leaving school before graduation) is not a new phenomenon. Studies indicate that in 1900 America had a 90% dropout rate. Until 1945, our economy could absorb school dropouts. This is no longer true.

Dropouts today are more likely to:

  • Go to prison;
  • Be on welfare;
  • Commit crimes;
  • Be single parents,
  • Join gangs.

There are certain misconceptions about school dropouts. First, we talk about high school dropouts. There is no such thing. Dropping out is not an event; it is a process. The process begins early in a child’s educational career. In a survey conducted by the United States Department of Education, third grade teachers were able to identify potential dropouts with amazing accuracy. And in June 2008 Arizona University’s School of Education published a longitudinal study that stated that the process begins in kindergarten.

We are told that education is expensive. It isn’t. Ignorance is expensive. According to the United States Department of Justice, 78-82 percent of all prisoners are school dropouts. And the average cost of prison is $41,000 per year.

We talk about children at risk as if the entire burden should be placed on them. In our global competitive world, it is not the children who are at risk. What is at risk is our economy, our society and our democracy.

America cannot continue to be a global power if it does not improve its public schools. And it cannot improve its schools unless all of its students succeed. The graduates of our public schools built America. Its graduates provided the manpower that built our industries, transportation and communication systems. America’s schools became known for producing the world’s finest doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and business leaders. Graduates were the workers in the factories, the middle managers and even became chief executive officers. America can only thrive in the 21st century if all the graduates of our schools succeed and make this country into a high performing global nation.

As John Akers, former Chairman of IBM stated, “Education isn’t just a social concern, it’s a major economic issue. If our students can’t compete today, how will our companies compete tomorrow?”
But there are answers. The National Dropout Prevention Center has been studying the problem since 1987 and has developed strategies that the National Education Goals Panel has stated are “the most effective strategies to help solve the school dropout problem. The strategies are data-driven and are field-tested.

Over the next few issues, we will identify the causes of school dropouts, the strategies which schools can implement to solve the problem and specific tools to be used by classroom teachers, school counselors and administrators to stop this national plague.

Franklin Schargel is president of Schargel Consulting Group. For more information visit
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