Dropouts: the elephant in the convention hall
Like cacophonous cicadas that emerge every four years, presidential hopefuls – this time solely of the Republican variety – are buzzing about South Carolina once again, bawling out their belief in family, faith and freedom.
In fact, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, one might gather from the barrage of television and radio ads being thrown up across the Palmetto State that family, faith and freedom are the essential foundations on which the next president will have to build to ensure the future well-being of our nation.
Alas, it sounds nice, but in reality it’s nothing more than simplistic rhetoric that the media types eat up because it makes for nice short sound clips.
In reality, this type of pabulum won’t go very far in terms of improving the lot of the average American, or, for that matter, do much of anything for most Americans, except those that get elected, along with a few others that latch onto the coattails of the newly elected.
There’s one topic you can be assured will not be discussed by any of the candidates leading up to the SC Republican Primary this Saturday: the inexcusably high dropout rate evident in South Carolina, or any state, for that matter.
Oh, yes, there will be platitudes about the importance of education, about children being the future of America, and other bromides political types like to dust off and trot out around primaries and elections, but nary a one wants to field – never mind substantively answer – hard questions about the shocking number of students who don’t make it through high school.
Too bad, because somebody needs to highlight the fact that South Carolina ranks near the bottom of the nation with a 66 percent graduation rate, according to the most recent data released by the US Department of Education.
Some might argue that this is a state issue, one presidential candidates ought to keep their noses clear of.
Not that candidates – whether Republican or Democrat – have ever let that argument get in the way when there’s voters to be pandered to, but education is as much an economic development issue as anything else.
“In 2010 alone, dropouts cost the nation $4.5 billion in lost earnings and tax revenue,” according to Pat Garofalo of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Garofalo adds that in California alone, college dropouts are losing nearly $15 billion in earnings over their work lives and costing the federal government more than $3 billion in lost income taxes.
“So far, the GOP has had precious little to say about the problem; South Carolina, with the second-worst dropout rate in the nation, should provide the perfect venue for them to change that,” Garofalo adds in a piece that appears on Like the Dew.
Don’t count on it happening. Why? One reason is we here in South Carolina can’t even agree on how many kids aren’t graduating.
In 2009, Neil Mellen of the pro-school choice organization South Carolinians for Responsible Government pointed out in an op-ed in The State newspaper that there were many ways to report figures:
“Officials at the state Department of Education claim that 75 percent of high schools students in South Carolina graduate,” Mellen wrote. “Education Week has reported 66 percent. The US Department of Education is less optimistic. In its most recent detail reporting, it counted 33,439 diplomas issued by South Carolina to a class of students that began with 64,027 freshmen four years earlier. That’s just 52 percent.”
Two points: One, why can’t we come up with a single statistic to measure a state’s graduation rate; and two, no matter how you want to measure it, South Carolina’s not doing a very good job at ensuring the vast majority of its young adults are graduating from high school.
Now, one could argue that the Republican candidates who will be traversing the state this week can’t be expected to have pointed solutions to South Carolina’s dropout problem.
But there’s no reason that these individuals – all of whom are educated and have enjoyed a measure of success in their lives – can’t at least stress why parents and other adults should be talking up the importance of graduating from high school, and how it’s crucial to the future well-being of young adults.
For, if these candidates really do put family, faith and freedom at the forefront of their beliefs, they’ll understand that an educated citizenry is an essential component, perhaps the essential component, in making those beliefs a reality.