City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan
By Erica Green
Jan 30, 2012 | 6:48 AM
Baltimore city is used to some radical ideas when it comes to keeping kids in school--a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso--but there is one that I wanted to put out there for debate's sake.
In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said that his administration would encourage states to raise the compulsory age of attendance to prevent kids from dropping out of school. Under the proposal, children would be require to attend school until the age of 18.
In Maryland, there's been a longstanding attempt to address truancy and dropout rates by raising the compulsory age of attendance, a measure that seems to have always failed due to its financial cost (because the human one is priceless, many would argue).
Still, the issue makes the city school system's legislative wish-list every year, and schools chief Alonso said Monday that he still maintains that, "it makes no sense to tell a kid they can't vote or drive a car but we let them drop out of school."
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to raise the state's compulsory age, a cause she plans to continue championing, said Monday she was "really pleased to see the President call on states to take care of our children. We ought to be doing everything we can to keep our students in school."
In 2008, Pugh's efforts spurred a yearlong study by a statewide task force of educators, community leaders and legislators which recommended that, among several other efforts, the state raise the compulsory age of attendance.
"Everything in that study, except raise to the age to 18, we've done," she said, citing examples like the numerous alternative schools and programs that have sprouted up across the state, and the move toward more in-school suspensions.
Pugh noted that Baltimore city has utilized several of the reports recommendations under Alonso, which she believes has contributed to the city's dropout rate being cut in half in the last four years.
"There's nothing left for Maryland to do except push the dropout age to 18," she said. "It says to young people that the state has the responsibility to provide you an education, and we consider you a child until the age of 18, which we do."
The 2008 report also but found that it would cost the state $200 million a year and worsen the existing shortage of teachers, classroom space and other resources.
Pugh said the state's current budget model for education is to "count children out, before we count them in," she said. "They estimate that a certain amount of students will drop out of school, and allocate that money somewhere else. It's ridiculous."
In speaking with some city educators in the last few days, there were some common concerns:
1.)Even with the current compulsory age of attendance at 16, hundreds of parents are hauled into court every year for their students' truancy, some of whom can't control what their kids do once they leave for the bus stop or are dropped off in front of the schoolhouse doors.
2.)What will become a school's climate if there are so many students there who don't want to be?
With that in mind, I am wondering what our education community thinks of this issue--now that it's on the White House's radar?