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Let Them Drop Out, Then Get Them Back

"Meanwhile, we'd create a plausible 'later in life' high school and higher education pipeline through the set-asides. . . . The existence of that dropout fund money would attract a whole bunch of education reform entrepreneurs."

My view:

This is, to say the least, a very contrarian approach.

Many of the big brains in education policy have been talking about going in the opposite direction -- raising the legal school-leaving age from 16 to 18. In our subsequent discussions, Goldstein addressed many of the pitfalls of his let-them-go approach. For instance, he points out that all those dropouts save inner-city school systems a lot of money. They don't have to hire as many teachers for students who are not there. The Goldstein plan would eliminate those savings.

He said his plan would have to find a way to keep school officials from bribing students to stay in school so the district would not lose the money. Unions might object to a dropout fund that would not necessarily be used to pay their members, even in the long term. Goldstein would make this pitch to teachers: "Would you support a massive change where only 11th- and 12th-graders who wanted to be here were here, and your classes would be a lot more challenging?"

He also has an idea for a tutoring plan for former dropouts spending their saved education dollars, such as 1,000 hours of one-on-one tutoring at $30 an hour. "I shudder at all the ways people would try to beat that system," he said, "but at face value, imagine how much more could be learned in this way than in two years of regular Coolidge High."

Ever the cranky realist, I can't imagine that any school board would ever approve the Goldstein plan, but I have been pleasantly surprised by many things that have been happening in schools lately. At the very least, I think he has focused on something most anti-dropout schemes ignore. Many kids that age cannot stand to be in school, no matter how winning the teachers or how understanding the counselors or how high-tech the vocational arts program. They have to get out of there.

I am no cowboy, but I seem to have read somewhere that there is no point in getting in the way of a stampede. So one rational answer might be: "Let them go. They will eventually get tired, and you can round them up." Something like that might work for restless teens, if administered by talented educators like Goldstein. His e-mail address is Let him and me know what you think of his idea. I will revisit this in a future column and see if we can come up with something that some school system might actually try.

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