One in three students drops out before they graduate in the United States each year (7000 every day or one every 26 seconds). In some cities the ratio is one in two. From having the highest graduation rate in the world, the US now ranks 18th and the cost of this epidemic is non-trivial.
First of all, high school drop-outs are more likely to be unemployed. Some 15% are out of work compared to the national average of 9.4%. This costs taxpayers more than USD8 billion annually in welfare payments. If they are in work, they end up earning about USD10,000 less a year than high school graduates which corresponds to about USD300 billion in lost earnings every year. High school drop-outs are also more likely to be incarcerated. Almost 60% of inmates are high school drop outs and, as one speaker in this video clip asserts, there are schools in Los Angeles, for example, where more kids go to prison than to college.
The factors contributing to the high drop out rates are varied and have as much to do with the decaying fabric of society as anything else. The problem, of course, is that social problems will only get worse unless there is a education system in place that works, keeps people in school, and has them graduate with the skills and self-esteem to make a positive contribution to society. Charter schools like the one described in Philadelphia might be the answer for some, but a solution has to be rolled out a broader scale, and this requires a rethink on what it means to go to school. The ‘industrial model’ of schooling with a standardised curriculum, a fixed school day, and neat rows of desks and chairs is certainly no longer relevant.