Florida, by statute, both enables and endorses failure. Florida Statute 1003.21 provides that any student who attains the age of 16 years during the school year is not subject to compulsory school attendance beyond the date upon which he or she attains that age
Enabling our students to fail is a shame. By an officially endorsed mechanism of the state, we give Florida high schoolers the ability to drop out of school, an archaic and outdated practice. Long gone are the days when working to manage the family farm or small business in the 18th or 19th century was a necessity.
During the late 1800s, the growth of free and accessible public schools altered what would be needed to succeed in life. At the turn of the century, families were extended and the additional income of children going to work at the age of 14 was truly needed to get by. The major expansion of public education so radically altered what was usual and customary that by 1900, more girls than boys were graduating from high school.
There were 7 million students in elementary schools in the U.S. around 1870, but only 80,000 in secondary schools and a mere 9,000 Americans held college degrees. At the turn of the century, roughly half of students under 19 were in school, rising to 75 percent by 1940, and over 90 percent by 1970.
In the 1940s, less than 10 percent of black students enrolled completed high school and less than 30 percent of white students did the same. High school graduation rates have increased in the past 70 years, but are still too low, resulting in burdensome social costs that can be traced directly to the absence of education.
A 2010 study of those entering U.S. prisons found that nearly 72 percent tested below the eighth grade level. Another study found that 67 percent cannot write a basic letter. High school drop outs are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than those who graduate. A Florida study released in 2005 found 70 percent of incarcerated inmates to be less than functionally literate. What can we learn from these disturbing statistics? Simply put: education matters.
Social safety mechanisms were few and far between in the 1800s and early 1900s. The complexities of life were more routine and less technical, and the educational options available were far more limited. Without a high school diploma one cannot even get a ticket into the economic game, much less make it to the nosebleed seats. A high school diploma is a minimum ticket to opportunity and yet we continue to endorse the option to fail. In this modern era, there are an abundance of safety mechanisms. Students can finish school even under the worst circumstances. There are no excuses for dropping out.
Leaving school without a diploma sacrifices the basic safety net, which allows students the ability to provide for their own wellbeing. The drop-out option should be stricken from Florida Law. Our state should not enable guaranteed failure. Our prisons are filled with those who, endorsed by the state, made the choice to stay at the bottom of the economic ladder. Our national welfare rolls are filled with those who chose a lifetime of limitations at the age of 16.
One would think that the state would prefer students stay in school, even beyond high school, learning a marketable trade or pursuing additional academic paths. The failure option should not be in play. Education is the best option to escape the burdens of poverty. Degrees matter. Stay in school; give yourself the gift of potential, not the burden of ignorance.
Dr. Moore is president & CEO of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida.