The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 22, 2009

In our view: Turn slogan into reality

Dismal graduation rates undercut the purpose of public education and reduce the value of taxpayer-financed schools. That may seem a harsh assessment, but it mirrors the fact that too many students waste years of educational opportunity by dropping out of high school each year.

It is a troubling phenomenon that has had educators, legislators and parents scratching their heads for decades. Reducing the problem to dollars and cents is basic. Tax dollars expended on young people who walk away before completing their education is, if not wasted, then given a reduced return on investment.

But the truth is that the most serious impact of a high dropout rate will be felt by those who refuse to finish their schooling. They may achieve success in life at some point, but it most likely will require a greater struggle.

Education simply is a key to opening doors that can lead to better paying jobs, college degrees and personal fulfillment. While a high-school diploma doesn’t guarantee happiness, it does increase the opportunities.

We applaud the determination of the Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction and Carthage school districts to develop a specific, collaborative plan for encouraging more students to remain in school and thereby reduce the dropout rate. Certainly there is room for improvement. Only 74.2 percent graduate in Joplin, while the rates run from 85 and 84.5 percent for Carthage and Carl Junction, respectively, to 82 percent for Webb City.

Missouri’s graduation rate is an unimpressive 85 percent.

Giving impetus to local dropout prevention efforts is a new law requiring that youths remain in school until 17 years of age. Under the old law, they could leave at 16. That means students who dropped out at 16 last year will have to return this fall.

No one believes that every student will graduate. For a variety of personal reasons, some young people will not complete their educational experience. But they should.

“Graduation Matters” is not only a Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education slogan, but a prophecy.