Do You Think the Drop Out Age Should Be Raised?

Is 16 too young to drop out of school? Though that age has been set in many states for decades, some - including President Obama - believe the age should be raised to 18. But would raising the drop out age address many of the problems associated with dropping out of school? Or would it only make matters worse?

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Old Problem Gets New Attention

Though the president's reference to raising the drop out age in his State of the Union Address has brought the issue to new light, it's something that individual states have been addressing for years. And while 16 seems to be the age most associate with dropping out, this number is not reflective of every state.

For instance, 21 states (and the District of Columbia) already mandate that students attend school until they are 18, and 11 states require attendance until the age of 17.

So one would presume that raising the drop out age would have positive results. Raise the age and get more kids to stay in school longer, where they will thrive and obtain a diploma, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

'Not a Silver Bullet'

It should be understood that raising the drop out age does little to affect dropout rates and nothing to address the reasons why students are dropping out in the first place.

A 2004-05 study, for instance, showed that only three of ten states with high graduation rates had raised the drop out age to 18. A more recent report (2008-09) concluded that only some of the states that had raised the drop out age showed graduation rates higher than the national average.

'(It's) not a silver bullet,' Chad d'Entremont, executive director of the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy in Massachusetts, told The American Prospect in January 2012. d'Entremeont went on to say that improved intervention methods like night classes and counseling should be considered over raising the drop out age.

What further complicates the issue is that if students are required to stay in school until they are 18, programs designed to address their needs will have to be maintained or put into place. Such programs will, of course, require funding.

In 2010, when North Carolina was considering raising the drop out age, it was estimated that the resulting increase in enrollment would cost about $373 million over a five-year period! At a time when education budgets across the nation are suffering deep cuts, is this even possible?

A Myriad of Problems

In January, Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford in Delaware, told 'Let's find out why these kids are dropping out. We need to address that, not their age.'

What raising the drop out age does not do is take into consideration the fact that in many cases these are students who do not want to be in school in the first place. Keeping them there, some believe, could cause disruptions or distractions that would be academically harmful to other students.

It also does not address the issue of student engagement: can schools do more to keep students engaged so that they won't have a desire to drop out?

And what of students who simply do not perform well in structured settings? These are students who might do well in more non-traditional learning environments, but lack of funds or other reasons do not always make this an option.

In these cases, perhaps high schools could offer alternative curricula or teaching methods to reach at-risk students. Such flexibility could result in catching students before they stop attending school. If schools across the country could succeed at that, there's a chance we wouldn't need to discuss the drop out age at all.

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