Joshua Calhoun lacked a formal education, but he had the common sense to appreciate that actions have consequences. Even one hundred years ago he understood that his children needed to finish school if they were to have the best chance at success. Were Joshua alive today, he would be quick to point out to those who ring their hands over unemployment that those who lack a good education probably lack the skills to obtain and keep a good job.
The latest numbers on unemployment were released a few days ago and minimal change was reported as new and breaking information. The analysis of the jobless numbers suggest we should expect or hope for dramatic change in the unemployment numbers without dramatic change in the skills and circumstances of the unemployed population. If the news media, pundits and politicians paid as close attention to the school dropout rate as they do to the unemployment rate, perhaps two problems could be solved with one solution. Focus on students at risk of dropping out of school, ensure all students are college and career ready and prepare every student for 21st century jobs, thus increasing the likelihood of cutting the unemployment rate.
Although some progress has been made in reducing the number of students who leave school without obtaining a diploma, a quarter of all high school students still drop out of school every year. Among African American and Latino students, the number is closer to 50%. While some of these students eventually obtain GEDs, the probability of a dropout finding a job that will allow them to support a family and move up the career ladder is slim. Job projections for the next decade indicate that more than half of all new jobs created will require some post secondary training.
If they hope to reduce the unemployment rate in this country, employers and policymakers should align their concern for unemployment to a concern for graduation rates. They should support efforts aimed at reducing the dropout rate. The Grad Nation Communities of America’s Promise is a good place to start for examples of how this work is getting done. The National Association of State Boards of Education former partnership with the US Army called Project PASS, demonstrated significant potential. There are other efforts all aimed at increasing graduation that could use exposure and support.
Truancy is a predictor of dropping out of school. Policymakers can enact programs and policies the cut truancy, especially at the elementary and middle school levels. Increase the age for mandatory attendance. More than half the states allow students to leave school before the age of eighteen. Provide incentives for cross-collaboration between successful schools and districts and those struggling with low graduation rates.
If the jobless numbers are important to report each month as an indicator of how the economy is doing, so too are the numbers of young people who drop out of school each month. For once I would like to see the morning news and talk shows get worked up over the pending announcement of just how many students we have allowed to put their futures in jeopardy by dropping out of school. Joshua would have understood the connection.Tweet