Study Finds Big Payoff In HS Dropout Prevention Programs

Only 54 percent of ninth-graders in the Houston Independent School District complete high school. A new study puts a price tag on the economic benefits of cutting that number in half. As David Pitman reports — the group behind the study hopes it will convince state and local governments to think twice before making massive cuts to education spending.

The Alliance for Excellent Education is a non-profit advocacy group in Washington D.C.  It studied the dropout situation in 15 metro areas in Texas.  The group found if the number of dropouts in the entire Houston metro area were cut in half for just one year, those additional graduates would collectively earn a quarter of a billion dollars a year more than they would have without a high school diploma.  Their earnings would add about $20 million dollars a year to state tax revenues.  And more than half of them would pursue some kind of higher education.

Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise is president of the Alliance.  He says this study quantifies the benefits of investing in dropout prevention programs in a way that hasn't been done before.

"So what it does is provide the policymaker with the solid statistics, as they make important decisions about not only funding education, but what direction those funds go, and the importance of cutting the dropout rate."

The HISD has Project GRAD to improve dropout rates at the worst schools.  But the district is also facing steep budget cuts because of reduced funding from Austin.   Wise says cutting spending alone will not make the dropout situation any better.

"The best thing to cut the dropout rate — focus on the policies that need to be changed to cut the dropout rate, and recognize that's the single greatest return on investment and projected incomes you can realize."

Wise says some of the best dropout prevention strategies include focusing on literacy at all grade levels.  Also, he says districts could take better advantage of computer tracking to identify students who are in danger of dropping out.

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...