Friday, February 20, 2009

Keep 'em in school

Though it's an overworked truism, it bears repeating: Today's world requires a far better education of graduates than their grandfathers needed in a rural economy when high school dropouts could survive with the barest education.

Now Idaho's legislators are wrestling with whether to raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18. The objective is full high school education to head off the economic and social pitfalls of being an early dropout, including falling into a life of crime and being unable to find jobs that require science and math skills.

The notion that compelling students to remain in school until 18 represents overbearing government is nonsense. Public education was founded and has been stoutly supported by Americans. It is intended to create a highly literate culture whose skills can advance American interests generation after generation.

Businesses are especially anxious about improving education across the board. Managers complain that some new graduates cannot read manuals used to operate machinery and electronics. Many young people lack even a basic understanding of managing personal bank accounts.

Numbers tell the story. The 2000 Census estimated that 15 percent of Idaho adults 25 and older didn't graduate from high school or pass a GED test. And the national organization Alliance for Excellent Education predicted that if the graduation rate increased 5 percent, the state would reap economic benefits of $21 million.

Considering the enormous taxpayer investment in public schools, requiring students to use those facilities until they're 18 (or have passed graduation tests earlier) is a reasonable criterion for entering the workaday world.

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