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Rise in Drop-Out Age Key Part of N.H. Education Policy

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Rise in Drop-Out Age Key Part of N.H. Education Policy

Education

Rise in Drop-Out Age Key Part of N.H. Education Policy

Rise in Drop-Out Age Key Part of N.H. Education Policy

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New Hampshire is considering legislation that would raise the age when high school students can decide to drop out of school from 16 to 18. The proposed law is the centerpiece of Gov. John Lynch's education policy, but some educators say the legislation is flawed. Amy Quinton of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

A number of states say teenagers cannot leave high school until they turn 18. In New Hampshire, they can drop out at 16. Lawmakers there are considering that age, but opponents say that could actually harm high school students. From New Hampshire Public Radio, Amy Quinton reports.

AMY QUINTON reporting:

It's the end of the day at Londonderry High School. 1,800 students rush for the doors. At the same time, a few students are wandering in for their first class.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're starting class.

Londonderry High School offers adult education classes for students who have dropped out, but still want to get their high school diploma. Fifty-four students are in the program. 18-year-old Jessica Kondry is one of them.

Ms. JESSICA KONDRY (Student, Adult Education Program, Londonderry High School): I dropped out when I was 17. My mom signed me out. I didn't like where I was at. I was failing everything. Sophomore year, I screwed up, and never went to school.

QUINTON: Kondry decided to work full time instead, doing odd jobs at a gas station and a pizza restaurant. But she soon discovered that without a high school diploma, she wouldn't get very far.

Ms. KONDRY: Before, it wasn't important at all, I didn't care. But, now I do, because I found out you can't get a real job without a diploma, and I don't want to make $7 for the rest of my life, an hour.

QUINTON: New Hampshire's governor is supporting legislation that would have kept Kondry in school until she was 18. Republican State Senator Dick Green, the prime sponsor of the legislation, says the purpose of the bill isn't to force students into traditional classrooms. He wants schools to create alternative programs, such as internships or community service work, for students at risk of dropping out.

Senator DICK GREEN (Republican, New Hampshire): This is not a panacea that's going to solve everything, but I think we can do a better job if we actually create an environment where we say, okay, we can, in fact, create programs for these children. And I think we can lower the dropout rate by doing that.

QUINTON: But Jessica Kondry says, she likely wouldn't have realized the importance of a diploma had she not dropped out.

Ms. KONDRY: I think if you couldn't drop out until you're 18, people wouldn't graduate. They would skip school. I think that they should just stick with what it is now.

QUINTON: By the toughest dropout definition, eight percent of Londonderry High School students end up quitting school, compared to a statewide average of 13 percent. Londonderry High School principal Jim Elefante says forcing students to stay in school isn't the answer.

Mr. JIM ELEFANTE (Principal, Londonderry High School): What do you do when you have a 16, 17-year-old, or an 18-year-old whose parents can't get them to school? The court system, although they try to help, certainly don't have the resources and the money and the time to track these kids down and force them to go to school.

QUINTON: Elefante says those students may also disrupt classmates who want to learn. New Hampshire's Education Department doesn't keep track of how many schools have alternative programs for those at risk of dropping out. Education Commissioner Lionel Tracey supports the change in the law, even though he believes it's not a solution to the problem.

COMMISIONER LYONEL TRACY (Education Commissioner, New Hampshire): It was intended more to make a statement, and assign responsibility to young people, that they must work toward a high school education.

QUINTON: There's no nationwide research that shows changing the compulsory age to 18 will make a difference in the dropout rate. Cathy Kristi tracks education policies for the non-partisan group, Education Commission of the State. She says 17 states now require attendance until age 18. Kristi says it's a growing trend, despite any truancy problems the policy may create.

Ms. CATHY KRISTI (Researcher, Education Commission of the State): You are at least having kids in school, and you have an opportunity to deal with making the schools work for them. If they're not in school at all, you've lost that opportunity.

QUINTON: Kristi says raising the age may only make a difference in New Hampshire if alternative programs are already in place. But she adds the dropout prevention programs haven't been well evaluated either. So it's difficult to measure their success. For NPR News I'm Amy Quinton in Concorde, New Hampshire.

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