DROPPING OUT of high school isn't just a teenager's personal problem. It's a loss for the Massachusetts economy, which needs educated workers.
Recognizing that schools can't single-handedly solve this problem, a promising bill in the state House would bring in powerful partners to help.
In the 2006-07 school year, more than 11,000 teenagers - nearly 4 percent of the state's public high school students - dropped out. More troubling is the cumulative number of students who enter ninth grade but, four years later, fail to graduate. Statewide, while 81 percent of the class that entered ninth grade in 2003 graduated on time in 2007, 9 percent dropped out. And 6.6 percent were still in school.
Time can be punishing. Once dropouts reach their 20s, they are no longer seen as youngsters in need of academic help. And their own motivation to get a high school degree can fade. That's why the state needs a dropout prevention and recovery system that can respond quickly when students quit school. It also needs more alternative programs that meet the needs of young adults who seek diplomas, but who won't sit in a classroom full of younger students.
The bill would help by creating a dropout commission with wide-ranging resources and expertise. Members would include state legislators and representatives of community organizations and several state agencies. The commission would find and share the best ways to help dropouts and keep students who are at risk of dropping out in school.
The group would also distribute grants to school districts and organizations that help dropouts get back to school, graduate, and move on to jobs.
The compulsory age of school attendance would increase from 16 to 18 years old, sending a clear message that no child in this state should be left behind.
And the bill would require school districts with annual dropout rates that are greater than 4 percent to come up with a plan to keep more students in school.
"So much can be done," says Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which employs two outreach workers who have persuaded hundreds of teenagers to return to education. Sullivan talks of having more outreach workers and identifying potential dropouts at younger ages to help them sooner.
Last month, the Senate passed the dropout bill. The House should, too. It would expand the sales force of adults who could ask dropouts and likely dropouts what they want, then guide these youngsters back to school and to the roads that lead to economic independence and personal success.
Correction: An editorial Monday misdescribed a bill to address high school dropouts. Rather than raise the compulsory age of school attendance from 16 to 18, the bill would create a commission to study that option.