Editorial: An economic case for high school reform

  • Updated: November 1, 2007 - 8:08 PM

State should focus on proven programs for school change.

Think about what an infusion of nearly $4 billion in earned wages could do for Minnesota. Tax revenue, consumer buying power and the state's general bottom line would look a lot better. More revenue would be available for education, health care, roads and bridges, parks and recreation and the environment.

That kind of financial boost could come to this state if only more teens graduated from the 12th grade. Future prosperity is one good reason to support and expand effective high school reforms.

A recent Alliance for Excellent Education study documented the state-by-state economic impact of high school dropouts. Researchers at the Washington-based school change advocacy group determined that if all Minnesota 2003 freshmen had received their diplomas in 2007, the state would have an additional $3.9 billion to work with over the students' lifetimes. Nationally, $330 billion in wages would be added to the economy, the group's study estimated.

Minnesota graduation rates are among the highest in the nation. Even so, about 15 to 20 percent of state students leave school and consequently have lower earning power. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income for a dropout was almost $10,000 less than for a graduate. That disparity makes nongraduates more likely to become locked in poverty, rely on government aid or commit crimes -- all actions that drain state coffers.

That's why it makes sense to invest in producing more graduates now, rather than paying much more later for courts, corrections and social services.

It is not news that some high school practices need change. Calls for reform in recent years have prompted some schools to try smaller student groupings, known as "schools-within-a-school." Others are working to improve academic rigor, reach out to families and provide better teacher training. The state Department of Education has given grants to encourage change, and sponsored pilot model high school programs.

Still, dropout rates aren't dropping enough. That means current programs should be assessed, and only the successful ones should be continued or replicated. As an evaluator found in 2005, some Minneapolis high schools benefitted from setting up small school communities, while others continued to struggle with poor attendance and low graduation rates.

At the other end of the education spectrum, local research has demonstrated that society gains at least $7 for every $1 invested in preschool education. The alliance study shows that a similar argument applies to educating teenagers, too.


    The full alliance report, "The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools,'' is available at all4ed.org. Information about Minnesota Department of Education efforts can be found at education.state.mn.us by clicking on the on high school initiatives link.

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