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School problems

This article from the LA Times points out that almost half of the students entering Birmingham High School in Van Nuys don't graduate. The article goes on to ask: "What happened to the class of 2005? It is a question, not just for Birmingham, but for all American schools."

Whoa, wait a minute.

Before we assume that this is a "school problem" -- and open up the tired debates over parents failing to send their kids to school "ready to learn," teachers failing to motivate the laggards, kids watching too much TV instead of doing homework, and the state failing to provide enough money -- we ought to ask if this abysmal graduation rate is more than just a school problem.

We're fond of pointing out the miserable fate that awaits high-school dropouts, and the lesson we take away from these facts is that kids shouldn't drop out. That's fine, as far as it goes, but isn't there another lesson?

Consider: what does it say about our economy that even though half the kids in high school drop out without graduating, the good jobs that require a high-school education and much more are being filled nicely, thanks. There's no shortage of well-educated workers corresponding to the excess of kids who drop out of high school. Our economy is humming along, getting more efficient all the time. From an economic productivity standpoint, there's no problem at all.

Conclusion? Well, if I didn't know better, I'd have to say that we're suffering from an efficiency problem. The information economy doesn't actually need very many people, so we're going to have to think of something else to do with all these kids. Hmm, thinking, thinking.... Aha! I've heard the army is stretched a bit thin right now.


Not surprisingly, the LA Times almost completely ignores the elephant in the room which is of course demographics. Most of these kids have a decidedly unpleasant fate ahead of them and your comment about the military is prescient.

Erm, certainly half of the kids in that high school? Are we actually saying the national drop-out rate has hit 50%?

The 50% figure is only for that high school, and it's debated. The school wants to count drop-outs as transfers, etc. etc.

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