Editorial: Time to raise dropout age

  • Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 12:54 a.m.

The Hickory and Newton-Conover school districts have taken the laudable step of raising the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18. Now, the Rowan-Salisbury system and others should follow suit.

Better yet, why not make this a statewide change for every public school district?

Raising the compulsory attendance age has been a popular topic in education circles for some time, one that typically draws support from both educators and politicians. President Barack Obama even mentioned it in his 2012 State of the Union address, declaring that students shouldn’t be allowed to leave school until they graduate or turn 18. Earlier this year, the state legislature approved a pilot program allowing the two Catawba County districts to raise their compulsory age limits. The respective school boards then approved the change, which will be evaluated as its implemented.

The age-16 dropout threshold is a relic of a different century in a different state and nation, one in which dropouts willing to work hard could make a decent living at textile plants, furniture factories or other industrial occupations. Those days, obviously, are long past. Now, a high school degree is considered the bare minimum for practically any job, or for getting the advanced training or education necessary to advance in a chosen field.

Raising the compulsory attendance age is only one prong of the dropout solution, however. Increasing the dropout age can help keep some students from making a bad decision with longterm detrimental impact. But it’s easier to mandate attendance than engagement and achievement. In addition to keeping at-risk students in school, schools need the resources to help those students make the grade. For example, the Newton-Conover system has a dropout prevention specialist and will employ additional strategies to ensure potential dropouts are attending school and getting extra help.

The Rowan-Salisbury System also has made raising graduation rates a priority — with some recent success. Its 2013 four-year cohort graduation rate of almost 83 percent tops the state average, and Dr. Lynn Moody, RSS’ new superintendent, oversaw significant decreases in dropouts as superintendent of schools in Rock Hill, S.C. This is a goal that has communitywide support, from the business sector to religious institutions.

At age 16 or 17, students don’t have the maturity or life experience to make a decision with profound consequences for them personally, as well as for the community. Some struggling students may see dropping out as the end of their problems. In reality, it’s just the beginning. We shouldn’t let them place such a low value on education or themselves.

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