In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama called on states to raise the dropout age to 18. With research showing that low-income children who participated in high-quality early education are 30% more likely to finish high school, it is clear that early learning is a critical component of an effective dropout prevention strategy.
Chad d’Entremont, new executive director of the Rennie Center (and former research and policy director of Strategies for Children), tells American Prospect that mandating attendance “is not a silver bullet.”
“Instead, he argued that raising the dropout age ‘needs to be accompanied by a host of supports that address the root causes,’” American Prospect reports. “D’Entremont pointed to options like night classes for students who felt a need to work while in school and a bigger emphasis on goal-setting and counseling so that alienated students had at least on adult in the school they could turn to.
“To really lower the dropout rate, d’Entremont argued for early childhood care, like more pre-k and full-day kindergarten, and a better way to monitor which kids are likely to be at high-risk of dropping out—and provide resources in elementary and middle school. ‘We need to focus more on prevention as opposed to intervention,’ he said, explaining that ‘changes that occur at the very tail end of a student’s career’ are least likely to bring change.”
Laura Bornfreund of the New America Foundation also calls for a balanced approach to dropout prevention that begins with children’s earliest years. “Students who are developmentally and cognitively ready for kindergarten are more likely to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade and on the path to achieve at high levels and graduate from high school,” Bornfreund writes in a National Journal post.
Research backs her up. Children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times less likely to finish high school by age 19.
“Attacking the drop out crisis at both ends,” Bornfreund writes, “should in time lead to less of a need for costly remediation at the secondary level, making additional investment in early learning, birth through third grade, much easier. In tough budget times, states want to get the most bang for their buck.”