Silver Chips Online

Dropping the dropout age

November 12, 2009
On Oct. 28, the MCPS Board of Education unanimously passed a motion to raise the minimum high school dropout age from 16 to 18. However, the hypothetical law wouldn't take effect until the state legislature enacts the directive as a law. This incentive is a necessary measure that recognizes the value of education in today's rapidly changing world, and would yield positive change in Maryland high schools.

Setting a higher dropout age clarifies that not only is a high school diploma valuable, but that the system is taking measures to help students succeed. Since almost all graduating seniors are 17 or 18 years old, a dropout age of 16 sends the message that schools are willing to just let students go before they complete their education. MCPS's persistent push for higher graduation rates loses all meaning when students are legally allowed to walk out of high school and never come back to cross the podium. Though MCPS is lauded for the highest graduation rates in the state and among the 50 largest high school districts in the country, being the best at 87 percent is not enough. This translates to almost one in seven students who do not graduate. This is a dismaying statistic, especially if the one in five ration indicates a national and state "target" graduation rate. In 2003, we peaked at 93 percent. What happened?

MCPS is already spearheading multiple initiatives to help students meet graduation requirements, including HSA prep classes, opportunities to complete Student Service Learning hours and assistance with Bridge Project completion. Though the system is rightfully investing in other incentives to help students jump through the hoops to graduate, the efforts are significantly dulled if MCPS is hemorrhaging students. And though it's commendable to expend resources on students who are staying in the system, MCPS must pinpoint and solve the issues behind the rates.

Raising the dropout age, however, encourages otherwise apathetic students to not break the law by simply staying in school two more years, and, in the process, earning enough credits to get their diploma.

However, the all-important high school diploma is admittedly not a catchall solution for all teenagers. Brandman herself acknowledged that the reasons for dropping out are complex and manifold. Reasons for dropping out may include a need to support one's family, care for one's children or even because the public school system does not adequately serve them.

Granted, these are valid problems that require their own solutions - and raising the dropout age is only one piece of the solution to many larger problems. By holding students to a higher standard of education, the school system reinforces the importance of a diploma. In today's world, a high school degree is widely regarded as the bare minimum of education for any kind of employment.

The mission statement of Blair itself is that "all students graduate equipped with the skills to navigate their chosen path successfully." This is exactly the kind of explicit stance that the county must take by raising the dropout age. And if there remain concrete reasons why the school system cannot retain students, the problems must be dealt with as well.

It will not be easy or cheap to raise the dropout rate. It will require time, commitment, truant officers, extra teachers and devoted administrators who will ensure that students not only stay in school but get a solid education while they are there. Let us not forget of the imperative for public schools to provide for all students, and that it is the system's job not to simply give up on those who don't stay in school. It is our time to make a thorough commitment not just to the process of education, but to its completion.