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Why graduation matters to all Montanans

2011-01-07T00:00:00Z Why graduation matters to all MontanansBy DENISE JUNEAU - IR Your Turn Helena Independent Record
January 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

I recently received an e-mail from a former student thanking me for believing in her while she was in high school and for giving her hope that she could do something successful in her life. Although she left school before graduating, she received her GED and joined the National Guard. She is now married, has two beautiful sons and is serving our country in Iraq. My response was that she was, and continues to be, worthy of high expectations. I believe that adults should hold high expectations of each student.

One of those expectations should be ensuring that young people graduate from high school. Graduation is a fundamental quality of life issue for individuals, their families and communities, and the state of Montana.

So how are we doing on that fundamental quality of life issue?

The short answer: not well enough. Last year, 2,010 students in grades 7-12 dropped out of school. This number is much too high. To confront this challenge, I have launched Graduation Matters Montana, an initiative aimed at increasing the graduation rate in our state. This statewide initiative is modeled after a successful program that started in Missoula.

Montana is one of a dwindling number of states that allows students to legally drop out of high school at age 16. My priority piece of legislation in 2011 is to raise the legal dropout age from “age 16” to “age 18 or upon graduation.” I am pleased to be working with state Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Billings, on this critical piece of legislation, Senate Bill 44.

The law allowing students to drop out of high school at age 16 has not been changed in 90 years, but the world we live in has changed during that time. We now live in a time of social and economic circumstances that require, at a very minimum, a high school diploma.

A high school graduate earns an average of $9,200 more annually than a student who drops out. Individuals with a high school diploma have an employment rate twice as high as individuals who dropped out of high school. In addition, nearly 75 percent of the inmates in the Montana State Prison system are high school dropouts. About 35 percent of the population in the Montana State Prison system has achieved neither a diploma nor a GED.

Our changing world and the economic success of the next generation demand that we take action to increase the graduation rate in Montana.

I also understand that when we expect more from our schools and students, we need to create flexibility and alternatives for implementation. That is why Senate Bill 44 allows for different pathways to success for students. These pathways include adult basic education and the GED, Job Corps, Youth Challenge and apprenticeships. We will continue to work with schools to share successful models and support the good work currently being done in communities across Montana to address the dropout rate.

I recently convened the first-ever Student Advisory Board, which includes 40 students from 31 Montana schools, to get their advice on dropout prevention. They confirmed that students have a desire to do well in school and be successful adults, but they need options, flexibility and career-relevant course work in their school setting. Raising the legal dropout age is a beginning, rather than an end, to the work that lies ahead.

I firmly believe that children will rise to meet the expectations we set for them. As a state, we need to set the expectation for our young people that they will graduate from high school.

If you share my belief that graduation matters, join us as we engage students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders to make sure schools are meeting students’ needs to prepare them to succeed in the 21st century and be productive members of our communities.

Denise Juneau is Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Purple
    Report Abuse
    Purple - January 13, 2011 1:57 am
    dotheresearch said: "it makes one wonder that inorder to look better for the federal funds that the Helena School District has regarding keeping students in school longer they have to pass this to make the program more sellable to the public that it works and we should fund it after the two year grant"

    It all comes down to the all mighty dollar. For every student the schools have registered, the more federal tax dollars they receive since schools get federal matching funds.

  2. Inland Umpire
    Report Abuse
    Inland Umpire - January 10, 2011 1:23 pm
    Another option may be to develop and promote programs that engage students, provide equal between athletic and non-athletic extracurriculars, and increase support for students with special circumstances like early parenthood, vocational employment opportunities, and mental illnesses.
  3. dotheresearch
    Report Abuse
    dotheresearch - January 09, 2011 1:33 pm
    it makes one wonder that inorder to look better for the federal funds that the Helena School District has regarding keeping students in school longer they have to pass this to make the program more sellable to the public that it works and we should fund it after the two year grant
  4. justme59601
    Report Abuse
    justme59601 - January 09, 2011 7:52 am
    if any of you honestly think that raising the mandatory age to stay in school in order to get kids to graduate is going to make a difference in the graduation rate, it's obvious you know literally nothing about kids. and i've got ocean front property in arizona to sell all of you.
  5. Darkness
    Report Abuse
    Darkness - January 08, 2011 5:07 pm
    Concentrate on educating the students instead of putting the emphasis on graduating them.

    Bring back competition in the classroom. Not everyone gets to be in first place. That's life, the sooner they realize that the better off they will be.

    Stop brainwashing them that everyone needs to go to college to succeed. Bring back trade/tech schools. Teach them to use their hands as well as their minds. Not everyone needs to be an academic.
  6. Vince
    Report Abuse
    Vince - January 08, 2011 9:49 am
    Yes, it does matter. All education does matter. One of the major problems of raising the age demanding that a child has to stay in school, is that when a child is truant, the parents are the only ones held to blame and must appear before a judge. The parents are charged with truancy. This would just be 2 more years of hell for the parents who care, but cannot physically get their child to go to school. Until the laws on truancy change in this state, and the student is held responsible, it is a no-win situation for a parent.

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