16% of American kids aren't graduating from high school. That's one out of every six.
In twenty-first century America, this is not only a major problem - the economy depends on educated people - it's damn embarrassing. About the only legitimate reason not to receive a diploma is a mental disability. But providing a legal avenue for healthy, able-minded students to drop out is a relic of rural America, when going to 4 years of high school might legitimately have been overkill if you worked on a farm in Iowa. Not any more.
When you read all those depressing statistics about how kids in Japan and Germany outscore our kids - the reality is that your son or daughter in a suburban American high school is probably right on par with those kids. The kids that end up dropping out, and committing crime or going on entitlement programs, that drag down the averages - and our per capita income - and the quality of life in American cities - are distributed in a few regions of the country or a few types of demographics. We can't screw around any more.
If I speak strongly on this issue, it's because through a mentoring program I've had extensive personal experience and frustration with self-sabotaging students doing anything to avoid graduating high school. And after all, we've made it illegal for 18-year old men not to register for the military, so why not do the same for staying in school?
Here's what we can do:
1) Make dropping out illegal. Everyone who doesn't have a learning disability - as determined by a real doctor (no getting your aunt to write you an excuse)
2) Consequences for parents of kids who skip school. That means fines and jail time.
3) Consequences for majority-age students who skip school - if you decide now that you're an adult you're going to stop showing up to school, we fine you, and put you in jail.
4) No social promotion. You're 19 and it's embarrassing that you're still in high school? Too bad. You don't get that diploma until you pass your classes. If you stop coming, the police come. You have kids? Make arrangements, or their mommy/daddy gets fined and/or jailed.
I'd rather coerce kids to finish their education now and fight the misguided legal fights that will surely follow the enactment of such policies, than pay for the problems that will persist if we allow this to continue.