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Fixing the dropout problem October 6, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Education, Workforce.
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Continuing my current workplace focus on issues related to the emerging workforce and its role in economic development (leading up to our regional Business-Education Summit), I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts on the dropout problem in America.

From an economic development point of view, high school dropouts are very undesirable. Without the high school diploma, the baseline indicator of entry-level employment readiness, the dropout has nothing to indicate that they have any of the skills or attributes to perform in the workforce. They are only eligible for the lowest of low-paying jobs. Now, there are some notable exceptions to the rule about dropouts (Yes, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard…but he was accepted to Harvard before he dropped out.)…but the vast majority of the workforce does not fall in the “exception” category. In order for one to be productive citizens through placement in the workforce or admission into higher education, one has to have a high school diploma. Otherwise, they have little value in the world of economic development.

Which brings us to workforce development’s perspective. In an ideal world, the workforce development system should be in place for the retraining and job placement needs of the workforce. All too often, “retraining” involves training in basic skills – or remediation. As I’ve mentioned before, our post-secondary education system is spending a LOT of money in basic skills remediation. Every dollar spent on remediation – for dropouts who did not pick up necessary skills in high school and people who have let their most basic workplace readiness skills atrophy – is a dollar not spent on retraining a worker whose skills are applicable to an indiustry that is not longer viable in today’s economy. We need to take outsourced manufacturing workers and introduce them to information technology, bioscience and logistics – or whatever skills the local economy demands.

4kiwi shares the National Education Association‘s plan to reduce the dropout rate at the national level. As per most of these lists, I’ll share the bullets but suggest that you click on the link to read the rest of the information.

  1. Mandate high school graduation or equivalency as compulsory for everyone below the age of 21.
  2. Establish high school graduation centers for students 19-21 years old
  3. Make sure students receive individual attention
  4. Expand students’ graduation options
  5. Increase career education and workforce readiness programs in schools
  6. Act early so students do not drop out
  7. Involve families in students’ learning at school and at home
  8. Monitor students’ academic progress in school
  9. Monitor, accurately report, and work to reduce dropout rates
  10. Involve the entire community in dropout prevention
  11. Make sure educators have the training and resources they need to prevent students from dropping out
  12. Make high school graduation a federal priority

I doubt that anyone can argue with this list of priorities. The question then becomes – how to make it happen?

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