While flipping around last night, I landed on a local PBS show called, Georgia Weekly. The subject was supposed to be high school graduation – not. It was about dropping out of high school. Had I not stumbled on at precisely the right moment to hear one of the experts state while the other expert was shaking her head in agreement, that he could accurately tell which students were going to drop out in the 2nd grade. Wow. Georgia has a drop out rate of 40% (source: U.S. Department of Education) and they know which one’s will drop out 10 years in advance. Talk about futility. Something is seriously wrong here.
You see, I’ve got this theory that the sole purpose of government is to help us be the best taxpayers possible. Covers just about everything – safe from terrorist and nuclear attack, safe from scoundrels making off (past tense: Madoff) with our money or home values, safe from drunk drivers, healthy enough to work long hours, that sort of thing, all so we can make as much money as possible so we can pay as much in taxes as possible. I like it. Competent government means I’ll make more and pay more – suits me every time – I love to pay more taxes because it means I have more.
One of the most obvious investments a government can make is raising each generation of taxpayers. The payoff is incredible.
- The National Center for School Engagement tells us that “The average dropout costs (sic: us) more than $800,000 over the course of his or her lifetime.”
- US News & World Report, says, “ Just one year of dropouts costs the United States more than $319 billion in lost wages over their working lives. Without immediate and extensive intervention, in five years they will cost the country more than $1.5 trillion—far more than the federal government just committed to rescuing banks. “
- The Teachers College of Columbia University, says, ”Studies suggest the United States would save $41.8 billion in health care costs if the 600,000 young people who dropped out in 2004 were to complete one additional year of education. 75% of state prison inmates are high-school dropouts.
There’s also a terrible personal toll paid by dropouts. The struggles last their lifetime and shorten it. So, I keep watching this show and hear some of the things I already know. Then they drop this blinding glimpse of the obvious that I hadn’t heard for a while – retaining a student, did you know that making them repeat a grade increases their likelihood of dropping out by 4 times? Flunk them twice and almost 100% will drop out. Rewind for a moment to the Leave No Child Let Behind program and think about it in this context. They have to pass a test or they are retained. My god, what have we done? We have legislated a guaranteed dropout? This is insane.
I’m not even close to knowing how you prevent this – the brightest and most idealist among are trying with all their might. I know that it is part student, part family and part school. I know that some kids are stupid, some families, well aren’t, and some teachers aren’t very good at what they do. But the cost to society is so great, doesn’t it seem a good bet for government to invest some of the $800,000 it will cost us for every single one we fail? Since we can pick them out in the 2nd grade, about we get all parties together. Tell them they have the money to do what ever it takes to save this child. Would it work. It is pretty to think so.
Here’s the advice that I gave my children and every young person I’ve had the chance to say it to: Stay in school as long as you possibly can. College. Post Grad. Stay there forever if you can. Because working sucks. Routine sucks. Having to make money sucks. Having to find a job sucks. Having to suck up to your boss, sucks. Having to get up every morning, get dressed, commute, park, ride elevators, sit in meetings, suck. Being poor, unemployed, underemployed, young and pregnant, in jail, or stupid, sucks more.