College & Workforce Readiness

The Cost of Dropping Out: Particularly High for Young Black Men

By Catherine Gewertz — October 12, 2009 1 min read
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We know that children of color and poverty get the rawest end of the deal in our schools, and that they pay the highest price for it. Now comes yet another disheartening stack of data to quantify that cost for us.

A new report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University finds that one in 10 young male high school dropouts are in custody on an average day. For black men, it’s worse: one in four are in jail or detention. The study finds that the higher the educational attainment level, the lower the incarceration rates. Dropouts are far more likely to be unemployed and be single parents, too, the study shows.

This study is a follow-up to the Center’s May report, “Left Behind in America: The Nation’s Dropout Crisis,” which examined the cost of the high school dropout problem to the dropouts themselves and to the nation.

Thankfully, in this age of disaggregated data, more folks are paying attention to things like the wild disparities in high school dropout and graduation rates by ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group. But of course, those on the front lines have known this truth all along. The data just provide the hard facts behind the stories they’ve long told.

The Schott Foundation has been documenting the dire educational plight of black boys for some years now. In the wake of that work, and as more people saw possibility in single-gender education for disadvantaged students, the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color was born. I was at their inaugural meeting a couple years ago, and listened as a small group of educators passionately committed to improving black boys’ futures shared the pain and inspiration in their work, and brainstormed ways to improve it. (Their next annual conference will be in April at Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

You might be interested in a recent article in the Village Voice about the efforts of some of those educators, as well as a recent issue brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education that looked at the dropout issue in terms of what it costs the nation’s economy: $335 billion in lost lifetime income, and that’s the dropouts from only one year’s graduating class.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.