In recent weeks I’ve opined on the problem with dropping out of high school and why students quit high school.
The good news is high school graduation rates across the U.S. have continued to improve since 2010. According to data released Dec. 15, 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education, “The nation’s high school graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest level since states adopted a new uniform way of calculating graduation rates five years ago.”
Both scholarly studies and common sense confirm that getting a high school diploma is crucial to future success in college, the workforce, and in life.
Still, too many American students never get that coveted diploma, and never get to walk across that graduation stage with their classmates. Instead, they join the ranks of high school dropouts, with opportunities limited by lack of education and marketable skills.
Most of the “success stories” in high school dropout prevention and re-entry programs have a common theme: concerted and consistent commitment by parents, teachers, administrators, and students as well. In my view, the role of parents is crucial to preventing their children from quitting school. Parents who instill in their children a love for learning and a desire for excelling in school are much more likely to see them succeed in high school and beyond in life.
Conversely, parents who neglect their children’s education, especially in their formative years, are more likely to encounter problems with trying to keep those children in high school through graduation. On a personal note, one of my mother’s deepest disappointments came when I quit high school in my sophomore year. One of her greatest joys was watching me walk across the graduation stage and receive my McMinnville City High School diploma from legendary principal Jonah L. Fitch in 1958.
According to the latest reports I’ve seen, high school graduation rates are continuing to rise nationwide, with a concomitant decrease in dropout rates. For example, Iowa ranks first, with a 90.5 percent rate, followed by Nebraska, 89.7, Wisconsin, 88.6, Texas, 88.3, New Hampshire, 88.1, Indiana, 87.9, Vermont, 87.8, Kentucky, 87.5, Missouri, 87.3. Tennessee ranks 10th with an 87.2 percent graduation rate.
There are lessons to be learned from the success stories of the top ten states in high school graduation rates. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and others have aptly asserted, individual states can become “laboratories of democracy,” by experimenting with innovative policy initiatives. If they succeed, then other states can follow their lead with their own experiments, adapted to their own state and local environments.
The challenge of raising high school graduation rates and lowering dropout rates is not just an educational policy issue. Continuing to improve in both areas benefits our communities, states, and our nation, too. An educated, informed citizenry is one of the hallmarks of a vibrant representative democracy.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.