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Evanson: Raising the dropout age isn’t enough

BY KEITH EVANSON | FEBRUARY 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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The three Rs: readin’, ’ritin’, and ’rithmetic, the trifecta of education, according to former English lawmaker Sir William Curtis, could be taught longer to students in Iowa’s public schools. Legislation on the table in the Iowa Senate would raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18.

In his State of the Union address in 2012, President Obama called for every state to adopt new laws to address the issue of high dropout rates by advocating a rise in the age when a student may drop out.

Since then, only a few states have acted to honor Obama’s mandate. Kentucky passed legislation to raise the dropout age to 18 in 2013, but because of different barriers existing in the bill, it couldn’t be enacted fully for two years.

It is a difficult process to not only pass a bill like this but also work with school districts to get on board.

Schools in Iowa are having a tough time keeping students from dropping out. One in 10 students in Iowa fail to graduate from high school in four years, according to the most recent data from the Iowa Department of Education.

If 10 percent of students aren’t getting high-school diplomas, then what are their chances of obtaining jobs in 2015 when a standard ndergraduate degree is the norm for entry-level positions?

It depends on what kind of job you want.

A main reason students drop out in the first place is because they see no direct connection to what they learn in school to what they want to do for a career.

Many of these students who opt to leave school before the age of 18 do so because the program they want to learn more about just isn’t available at their school. Budgeting and the cutting of supplementary education in public schools all across Iowa have likely played a huge role in this.

Schools want to be able to teach, in advanced detail, the fundamental education blocks of reading, math, and science: the subjects that they deem most important to preparing their students for the rigors of postsecondary education.

But college isn’t for everyone.

Attending a university or a private college isn’t appropriate for those who might want to work as an electrician or a carpenter. Some people want to do different things from what others may deem as “prestigious” like a doctor, lawyer, or a professor.

The irony in all of this is that the current labor market as it stands is looking for people who aren’t necessarily looking to practice law or teach philosophy — it is looking for skilled trades workers.

Forbes.com has published findings that among the most highly coveted workers currently include plumbers, electricians, and welders.

The simple act of enacting legislation to keep students in school for an extra two years is meaningless if the problems to address the void of vocational programs is ignored.

Education is the key to acquiring the skills necessary to obtain the career you want — that I agree with. But the kinds of learning, the kinds of classes being offered aren’t helpful to all in their pursuit of transferring their knowledge to use in the workforce.

Just ask the millions of college graduates who still can’t find work in what they majored in.


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