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LEFT OUT AND LEFT BEHIND: Economic and Social Repercussions of High School Dropouts

"leading the kinds of haunted lives that recall the Great Depression. They hustle, doing what they can-much of it illegal-to get along. Some are homeless."

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert discusses the “wretched state of millions of young people in America’s urban centers.” Because of the war against Iraq, he argues, the nation’s dropout problem is receiving even less attention than usual.

Herbert points to the city of Chicago as an example of the silent crisis that occurs every school day in cities around the country. Not only is Chicago’s dropout rate at an all-time high, 22 percent of the city’s residents between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of school and out of work. Forty-five percent of young black men in Chicago are in the same situation. As a result, Herbert argues, these “disconnected youth” are “leading the kinds of haunted lives that recall the Great Depression. They hustle, doing what they can-much of it illegal-to get along. Some are homeless.”

Echoing Herbert’s argument in an Education Week commentary, Richard M. Freeland, president of Northeastern University, and Joseph M. Tuccichairman of the Business Roundtable’s education and workforce task force, called the dropout crisis one of the most vexing social and economic challenges of our time. According to research from the Center for Labor and Market Studies at Northeastern University, 5.5 million young men and women nationwide between the ages of 16 and 24 are both out of school and unemployed-2.2 million (40 percent) of them are high school dropouts.

Freeland and Tucci write that young people without work or access to job-skills training and employment programs are statistically more likely to engage in petty crimes and gang activity, give birth without being married, or suffer from drug dependency. “At a time when they should be acquiring the kinds of knowledge and skills that can lead to a lifetime of productivity and opportunity, these disconnected youths have instead developed severe skills deficits that can lead to a lifetime of dispossession, especially in the contemporary, high-skills-based economy.”

The authors applaud the No Child Left Behind Act’s attention to annual testing in math and reading beginning in grade three and lasting through grade eight, but stress that such testing comes too late for the 5.5 million disconnected young adults who have already dropped out of school. In an effort to reengage this audience and bring them back into the mainstream job market, Freeland and Tucci argue for programs that provide young trainees opportunities for hands-on work experience. These opportunities would be supplemented by basic literacy instruction and skills development that is tied to specific occupations.

Freeland and Tucci admit that answering the question “Where the resources will come from?” continues to present a great challenge:

The answer may emerge when the nation’s business, government, and education leaders realize that our long-term economic vitality depends on getting more of these young Americans back on a route toward opportunity. An investment in our young now will pay enormous dividends-for us and for them-in the future. It is time for our civic leaders to place this challenge higher on the nation’s agenda.


If the nation is to achieve its education and economic goals, they contend, we must “confront this challenge with the same level of vision, focus, and energy that led to the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

“Locked Out at a Young Age,” by Bob Herbert:

“Out of School and Unemployed,” by Richard M. Freeland and Joseph M. Tucci:


$64,000 Question in Rochester, New York: Acute Dropout Problem Leads to Disappearing Students

The situation in Rochester, New York, is an excellent example of how the dropout crisis is affecting cities across the country. According to theDemocrat and Chronicle, the “disappearing student” syndrome is commonplace in many of Rochester’s high schools, where graduating classes of twelfth graders shrink by roughly one-third compared to the level in ninth grade. In all of Rochester’s high schools combined, the average class declines by about 70 percent from freshman year to senior year.

The article, “City Struggles to Keep Kids in School,” provides an in-depth look at the education challenges that many of the nation’s cities are facing. It quotes Rochester police chief Robert Duffy and C. Michael Robinson, the school district’s chief of development and operations, who assess the dropout crisis in terms of economic impact and crime.

“The dropout situation in Rochester has a tremendous impact on many of the issues of crime and violence that we are currently dealing with,” said Duffy. “These young people end up in drug houses, on corners, involved in crimes and all of these activities that are dragging us down.”

Robinson stressed the long-term problems for Rochester’s economy: “It’s a huge cost. In the long run, it’s a huge cost to our economy, it’s a huge cost to our support systems. And it’s the right thing to do, to keep kids in school.”

Read the complete article at:

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