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Editorial - Behind the dropout rate

November 11, 1997

Editorial - Behind the dropout rate

After falling to 4 percent in the 1995-96 school year, Washington County's high school dropout rate rose to 5.1 percent this year, a level that it hadn't hit in almost 10 years. To find out why, and to prevent the rate from escalating, school officials need to question young dropouts and discourage local employers from hiring them.

School officials say that pupil-personnel workers have already made contact with many students who'd decided to leave school. But they add that in some cases, the departures were unannounced: Students just left one day and didn't come back.

These are the young people who need to be questioned about their decision. Had they been discouraged with school for a long time, just marking time until they could legally call it quits? Or was the prospect of immediate employment more attractive than the idea of sitting in a classroom?

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If the latter is the case - with the low local jobless rate it seems like a good possibility - the school system and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce need to push local employers not to hire dropouts unless they're enrolled in a GED program or something comparable.

Employers should be in favor of such a program, since for years we've heard them complain about the poor quality of the applicants who knock on their doors. Encouraging kids to stay in school could only increase that quality.

From the school side, the statistics for the current class of dropouts profile a group that experienced less and less success as the years went by. For example, just 37 percent failed a course in middle school, by high school, 58 percent of the same group had flunked one subject or another.

Their downward spiral suggests that early intervention of the kind proposed in (and then cut from) last year's school budget should be revived next year. The initiative, which would have provided extra reading and math help for elementary school students, might keep the next generation of high schoolers from experiencing the sort of failure that leads some to believe that there's no hope of success and no reason to keep trying.

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