Charlotte Hays

When the National Education Association—the nation’s largest teachers’ union—addresses the problem of high school dropout rates, you can bet your bottom dollar that their proposals will be more beneficial to the powerful union than to the dropouts.

Since a recent Gates Foundation study found that a third of all public high school students leave school before graduation and more than 80 percent of the nation’s 3.5 million dropouts ages 16 to 25 regretted their decision, it is obvious that the failure to get a basic education affects many people and hinders them from making the most of their chances.

The NEA’s solution?

Well, it’s not school vouchers or firing lousy teachers to improve the quality of instruction in public schools. That might help the students. The NEA has a different clientele and a different “solution:” pass a law requiring “kids” to stay in school until they are either able to pass enough courses to graduate or turn 21. This is part of a ten-year plan with a $1 billion a year price tag that the NEA recently put forward.

Why not 65? I mean, if you sit there long enough and flunk enough courses, and this could go on until senior high school becomes senior high school. Thorstein Veblen’s leisure class will have been expanded to include these elderly high school students who most likely continue to get nothing from school, but aren’t asked to become adults either.

Not surprisingly, given that the NEA is a key part of the Democratic Party base, President Obama endorsed a similar idea for turning us into a nation of illiterate Peter Pans in his State of the Union address, in which he advocated that all states make the legal age for leaving school to 18. Some states allow people legally to leave school at 16, which actually strikes me as the better option.

Is it wise for sixteen-year-olds to drop out of high school? The answer is almost always no. But requiring them to remain in school five more years is unlikely to produce good results either, since that just means more time in the same education system that already has failed them. Keeping “kids” in school until they are legally adults may save or create jobs in the field of public education. But that is all it is likely to accomplish. Does the NEA propose that failing 20-year-olds will suddenly become model students because they are sheltered from entering the world of full-time employment just a bit longer?

Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.