I usually reserve my loudest cheers and high fives for televised games of the UNC Tarheels basketball team. However, as I was watching the State of the Union speech by our President, I was caught by surprise with one proposal. President Obama said, “So tonight, I call on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.” Thank you, Mr. President. May I offer you a loud cheer and a high five? You are so right!!!
Compulsory attendance laws were first enacted in the 19th and early 20th century. Massachusetts was first and then by 1916 all states had a law. Now, here we are, more than a decade into the 21st century, and it only makes sense that we would up our game and require a high school diploma of all our students. To allow a child to drop-out relegates them to poverty wages and a higher risk for incarceration. It also makes them more susceptible to unhealthy behaviors. We are so much better than accepting the drop-out rates that we currently have. Surely, we can get behind the President on this recommendation.
I remember when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration initiated federal action in 1984 to raise the drinking age to 21. Who was the President? I believe that would be Ronald Reagan. Most would say at least 1,000 lives were saved annually by this law when all states had enacted this change by 1988. Raising the compulsory attendance law to 18 will save lives also.
Almost 20 states have already raised their age of required school attendance to 18. New Hampshire was the most recent. This is a critical mass. It is time for other states to stop budgeting for drop-outs. It is time to stop being enablers. It is time to stop pushing out children to raise test scores. It is time to change the expectation for our young people, and to say clearly to them..."You do not have our permission to drop out of school and ruin your life!”
Now, I can hear some educators say that it is problematic to have students in school who do not want to be there. I agree. That is why we must create interventions for high school students who are not succeeding in the traditional setting. We need graduation centers for those who are failing in the extreme. These should be places that provide a personalized pathway to graduation that is just as rigorous as the traditional school. These could also be recovery centers for current drop-outs in collaboration with community colleges.
We also need interventions for smart students who are bored. Blended virtual learning, project-based learning, independent studies, work-study programs are all interventions that must be utilized. As the adults, we need to adopt the mantra of “whatever it takes” to assure that all of our students get that high school diploma.
President Obama, you are not alone. The National Education Association adopted a 12 Point Plan that put this proposal first on its list. America’s Promise under the leadership of General Colin and Alma Powell have touted this proposal and have excellent research from their collaborators. We can do this if we start now. I look forward to your proposal to states and hopefully Congress. There is no room for partisanship when it comes to saving our children from themselves.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.