Could teens be arrested for dropping out of school before they turned 18? The concern of high school dropouts has been a hot topic in our nation for decades with a plethora of proposed solutions from think tanks, researchers and legislators. Recently, President Obama chimed in on the issue in his State of the Union address, calling for states to increase the age that students can legally drop out of school to 18. In response to this call, Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, joined the effort by pressuring state legislators in his State of the State speech.
On February 1st, the Chicago Tribune reported that Governor Quinn is pressuring lawmakers to increase the legal dropout age to 18 in Illinois. In 2005, Quinn raised the legal dropout age from 15 to 16 with improvements in dropout rates. At 2.7 percent in 2011, it was half the rate it was 15 years ago. Although graduation rates have improved in Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS), the dropout rate remains at a crisis level, reflecting the intricate social issues that are prevalent in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Local school officials agree with Governor Quinn that teens should stay in school until they are 18, however, they indicate difficulties keeping students in school even until the age of 17. CPS educators on the forefront of the issue say that programs that provide support for students most at risk have the greatest ability to help teens persevere to obtain their diploma. Additionally, CPS school officials say that elongating the school day to provide quality time for students to obtain mentoring, tutoring and other services could help, but would require additional funding.
Most policy experts warn that to prevent dropouts, schools need a broad range of supports for struggling students, as far back as the middle school grades, not simply high school. Although requiring students to stay in school until they are 18 has great intentions, merely pushing students to graduate is not enough. One can have a high school diploma and yet lack the self-regulatory, social and emotional skills that are necessary to hold a job and be a contributing member of society.
With over 1.3 million students dropping out yearly across the nation, the issue points to the significance of dropout prevention for teens and could make correlating fiscal improvements in areas of juvenile justice, teen pregnancy and workforce development.