Graduation rates spell bleak futures for many people

Published 3:30 am Saturday, June 15, 2013

Read the want ads.

Whether you read them in the classified section of a traditional print newspaper, in an online jobs board, or on a company’s web site, most “help wanted” ads include a caveat about the education required.

And very few of those jobs include “must have high school diploma.”

That’s because in today’s complex economy, most jobs require some form of postsecondary training; perhaps not a four-year, traditional college degree, but additional training nonetheless.

And that is why very few people in Alabama should be happy with the high school graduation rates released this week by the state Department of Education.

The numbers, which reflect high school graduation rates in 2012, first beg the question, “What took so long?” In this information age, it is almost unfathomable that it took a year to compile this data on 45,414 students.

Secondly, we should be gravely concerned that a fourth of the students who were ninth graders in the 2008-09 school year did not finish high school. That’s more than 15,000 young people.

What jobs can they get? How can they support themselves, much less an eventual family?

Multiply that number by 10 years of similar results, and you get 150,000 people with little chance of advancing economically, or of entering higher education. Those of us who did make it – who had parents who saw to it that we went to school and finished our lessons and fully participated in our educations – will have to help provide for them.

There are some, as Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart pointed out this week, who because of physical or mental limitations, cannot complete high school. They count against the graduation rate, and they deserve our help and care.

But there are others who should have walked across the stage, whose unrealized potential will be a potential problem for us all.

The problem is not just a high school one. Successful graduation begins with a successful kindergarten or first grade experience in which students learn to read.

Nor is it an academic one; it also is a reflection of our society and what we value. With ever-increasing numbers of single parent homes, we are likely to see more students have trouble making it 13 years.

We have to hope that initiatives like a renewed interest in offering career tech programs will help. And that sound foundational programs like Bright Beginnings will prepare children to succeed in those critical first years.

But the numbers are problems for all of us, because they are about the lives of people in our community.