NEA List Aims to Combat Dropout Rate
> 10/6/2006 2:14:46 PM

This week, the National Education Association released a 12-point "action" plan designed to reverse America's bloated high-school dropout rates. Based on the belief that every American child is entitled to a quality public education, the list offers general outlines for making the current system friendlier to students who might otherwise drop out by addressing the issues that most frequently lead to academic failure. Starting with the proposal that high school diplomas become compulsory for all Americans by the time they turn 21, the list runs through larger, less specific goals like establishing graduation centers for older students without diplomas, reducing class sizes and increasing the amount of individual oversight devoted to at-risk students through after-school programs, greater communication with parents and increased federal funding.

The list's accompanying fact sheet contains exclusively discouraging statistics: the overall high school graduation rate in our country sits between 68 and 71 percent, hardly an admirable number. Even worse, the numbers for Hispanic and African American students barely top fifty percent. Predictably, students from families with the lowest overall income were several times more likely to drop out of school. Rates of incarceration and unemployment skyrocket among those who choose to end their academic careers without a diploma. Our country's economic standing also suffers along with these numbers, as dropouts consistently earn less money and pay fewer taxes than those with diplomas.

While some education insiders praise the plan's calls for immediate action, especially in turning attention toward those aged 19-21 who haven't earned their diplomas, other skeptics argue that the Association's motives are purely self-serving, and that adherence to the published list will only increase funding at the expense of efficiency. Some in this camp believe that less oversight will encourage kids to succeed through  the force of their own will rather than institutional "coddling".

Though the press release is ultimately little more than an overly generalized wishlist, the NEA's stated goals are universal. One hopes that, over time, they will reveal themselves to be workable models rather than unrealistic suggestions. The organization may take inspiration from the example set by the National Governor's Association, which agreed in mid-2005 to implement nationwide standards for measuring graduation rates and collecting related data. In the immediate future, millions of American students will continue to struggle through high school, and far too many will opt out each year. From their perspective, sticking with school seems like an exercise in futility. One of the most important steps in facilitating their success will be a policy of constantly reinforcing the vital role that a high-school diploma will play in their adult lives.

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