The Kentucky State Legislature is once again addressing the legal age for students in this state’s public schools to be legally allowed to quit school prior to graduation.
The bill, officially known as House Bill 301, is being supported by the Governor and other legislators. The intention of the bill is most admirable.
The bill seeks to achieve higher graduation rates for high school students. Presently students are allowed to drop out of school at the age of sixteen.
This bill would raise the minimum age for dropping out to seventeen for students of the graduating class of 2017, and raise the age to eighteen for students graduating in 2018 and later.
Like so many of the bills passed by state and federal legislatures even though they are well intentioned, this bill comes with no increase in funding for the local school districts. This is a huge concern, but not the greatest concern.
Those individuals that think this bill is a particularly good idea are somewhat misguided. They feel that by simply requiring students to stay in school until they have reached their seventeenth or eighteenth birthday is going to make those students earn their high school diplomas.
They feel if the students are going to have to be there anyway, they will work toward their diploma. This idea is really very naïve.
As one retired veteran teacher I talked with explained, students who are interested in academics are not the ones who are considering dropping out of school. This teacher said that requiring these students, who want to drop out, to remain in school past their sixteenth birthday, would not make them want to study.
One big concern for teachers is that students, who really don’t want to be in school, will adversely affect the students who want to learn. The good students then don’t get their fair share of instruction because the teachers have to spend an extra amount of time on discipline and other problems of the students not wanting to be there, resulting in a detraction from the learning environment.
A more prudent approach for students wanting out of the traditional classroom setting would be to include more job training and stronger alternative programs.
A former principal explained that the costs, associated with the students having to stay in school one or two years longer against their will, would have to be addressed.
It naturally would necessitate more classrooms, teachers, etc. In fact, several districts/schools across the state would have to undergo extensive re-modeling or in some cases construct new buildings to accommodate the influx of students staying.
From my discussions with school teachers and administrators, it seems their greatest concern is trying to determine ‘why’ so many students ‘want’ to quit school before graduation.
One school official said, “That might be where we need to start thinking about the problem and a fix for it.”
One teacher with experience in dealing with especially troubled and troublesome children said keeping kids in a regular setting when they don’t want to be there is detrimental for all.
She said that the whole situation is a vicious circle and the lawmakers ‘know less than nothing’ about children and education. She added that it scares her how little the lawmakers do know about education, and the teachers have to depend on them, to tell the educators how to educate.
I think any concerned student, parent, teacher, or administrator would love to see the high school graduation rates significantly improve.
But, I fear this can only happen when all concerned individuals take an honest look and make an unbiased appraisal of education and then work together to make this state better educated and better equipped to face the future.
Just keeping uninterested students around for a couple extra years just won’t do it.