America is speeding toward an economic tsunami the likes of which we won’t easily recover from. Three million young Americans drop out of high school every year, over 8,000 per day. The class of 2012 marks the first time that all schools are actually calculating data on children who drop out of high school with uniformity. Now in America, if you enter 9th grade and don’t leave 12th grade with a diploma or its equivalent, you are formally considered a high school dropout.
It’s a start. A weak start, but a start nonetheless.
The Department of Education calculates that about 25% of students aren't graduating. However, if you take a kindergarten-to-graduation look at the numbers, and if you include only traditional diplomas, it is likely that 40% of our students are not graduating. Shockingly, in many American cities, half of black males are dropping out.
This methodology utterly ignores the fact that a GED is not an equivalent degree. If it was, GED holders wouldn't earn nearly a half of a million dollars less over their work life than their counterparts with a traditional diploma. It ignores the fact that GED holders can’t enlist in the military, enroll in most universities, or attend police and fire academies. Special diplomas are of even less value. Originally created for significantly differently-abled students, special diplomas now include students who work during the school day, have learning disabilities, or have had behavioral issues. They are counted in the graduation rate; however, to colleges and employers, they are meaningless.
DoE methodology also doesn't account for human nature. Schools keep their funding by keeping kids in school. Homeschoolers come with funding; dropouts don’t. Kids pursuing a GED come with funding; dropouts, again, don’t. It’s easy to convince oneself that the child who just walked out the door is going to keep learning somewhere.
The 9th-12th grade snap shot doesn't take into consideration the many kids who didn't make it to 9th grade. And we know there are many who don’t. In fact, research shows that family dynamics set the decision to drop out in motion by 2nd grade. 3rd graders who are behind in reading are four times more likely to end up in prison, any by 6th grade, would-be dropouts have made the decision to drop out.
America simply can’t afford to be dishonest with herself. This is too big a deal. Our graduation rate is lower than the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Finland and Denmark. We are no longer the most literate nation in the world. In fact, fewer of our 25 to 34 year olds graduated than did the generation before it. We are the only developed nation in the world that is academically backsliding.
Our education system is failing our students, our teachers and our economy. We clearly know that, yet we have not made good on that failure by building a modern, globally competitive educational experience for our children. When it comes to education, in all the questions, the baselines, the benchmarks, the starting points we choose pride over knowledge. As is true with any organization, only when we are honest about why we are losing business, why our customers hate us, why no one wants to buy our product, or why no one wants to work for us can we set about the hard work of course correction.