WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: Get practical about dropout rate


For the past decade, the U.S. high school dropout rate in our inner cities has remained constant at between 40 percent and 50 percent of high school students.

David Sortino

Whatever the reasons, the problem of high school dropouts may not be that complicated and might easily be solved — or maybe the numbers can be cut in half — by looking at a few intangibles. Here’s one. Could we possibly connect the dropout rate to the degree to which we address the vocational interests of juveniles?

For years, I have worked with high school dropouts who end up in juvenile correctional institutions. Many students who drop out of school often break the law, their only graduation becoming a trip to juvenile hall.

A study conducted by the Washington State Office of Corrections found that 70 percent of prison inmates do time in juvenile correctional facilities. Another study by UC Santa Barbara found that juvenile crime costs the state about $1.1 billion a year, but the economic loss from juvenile crimes is about $8.9 billion per year.

When I asked juvenile offenders to name some reasons why they dropped out of school, they often used words such as “boring,” “not interested” or “I needed to make money and get a job” and so forth. However, if we investigate their responses, we might begin to shed light on a possible solution to the dropout rate as well as to juvenile crime.

For example, I have used vocational assessments to motivate higher learning and career awareness with juvenile offenders and school dropouts. Over a five-year period, 75 percent of male juvenile offenders chose vocational interests associated with a realistic and conventional personality. The realistic and conventional vocational personalities represent those males interested and even motivated to learn or work in the trade industry such as auto mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, landscape design, etc.

Conversely, 70 percent of female juvenile offenders chose a vocational personality, which is associated with the social and artistic personality. This is defined as being highly social and creative with interests in careers connected with hairdressing, dental hygiene, preschool education, jewelry design and so forth.

In many respects, perhaps the solution has now become the problem. That is, we refuse to recognize the connection that dropouts and/or juvenile offenders might need a different school curriculum or one that complements their personality or interests with learning. In short, when you connect an at-risk population with high vocational interests you are in effect defining a major cause of the high dropout rate and delinquency of students.

We need to take the advice of Joseph Pearce, author of “Magical Child,” and stimulate the ability to learn through connection to the heart. We need to offer curriculum that, as Pearce notes, “serves as a catalyst to greater brain activity or emotional intelligence.”

The moral of the story? The cost to build Sonoma County’s juvenile hall facility (Los Guilicos) was about $38 million. The cost to build a new technical high school would probably be more. However, the average cost to incarcerate a high school dropout turned juvenile offender in California for one year can vary from $125,000 to $175,000. The cost to educate a California high school student for one year is about $9,000. Which do you think makes more sense?

David Sortino, a Graton resident, is a psychologist and retired teacher. Email him at davidsortino@comcast.net or contact him through his blog “Awakening Every Child’s Genius” on pressdemocrat.com.

14 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Get practical about dropout rate”

  1. Kerry Rego says:

    Thank you for writing this. It shows a clear disconnect between school and the real world. The longer we go with our current system, the farther kids will get from where they need to be. This blog will effect my discussions of education overhaul. Excellent points. @kregobiz

  2. bats555 says:

    Parents are educator’s also, they teach their kids how to dress, what are manner’s etc. They must also teach there children how important education is. If the parents don’t instill this, who will? My Father had always told me “You weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, so education is the main tool that will get you somewhere in this world.”

  3. Steve Humphrey says:

    The author is spot on. Our current education system is geared for higher learning within a design which rewards high academic achievement. Some students just don’t fit that mold.
    America needs great welders, mechanics, hairdressers, chefs, woodworkers, landscapers, heavy equipment operators, etc.. We don’t all share the same aspirations. Our academia should be more diverse.

  4. jody hampton says:

    Why not combine the department of education with the department of incarceration? That way the tenured can escort the educated/incarcerated from their classroom to their cell.

  5. NOTUTOO says:

    The problem is no manufacturing…America doesn’t make anything anymore…Those jobs are long gone. This country can’t be all about service oriented careers. We’re going to have to figure out how to get those manufacturing jobs back. Our youth’s don’t have to be “Technically Educated” because there are no jobs to apply it to. It’s all fast food, mini-mart, Oil Change, nail salons and tele marketing.

  6. Social Dis-Ease says:

    @ Money Grubber…agreed.
    Lots of skill sets being of service.
    Incarceration is big business.

  7. Money Grubber says:

    Social Dis-Ease:

    The USA has locked up more of its citizens than any other Western civilized country.

    That says a lot. The government has dreamed up more ways to put people in jail and prison than any other country.

    We do need to maintain and improve education for our young people.

    We don’t need to continue funding the “justice industry.” Locking people up is the best way to guarantee jobs for judges, prosecutors, cops, and parole/probation people. But we can do better without the industry and by funding and improving education.

  8. Money Grubber says:

    County Worker:

    Thanks for pointing out the 40% drop out rate that the local HS is not reporting.

    I didn’t know that we were being deceived by the school admin people in Sonoma County.

    Any other inside information ?

  9. Money Grubber says:

    I just watched an interview with an intelligent young man who was entering the US military.

    He correctly pointed out that he knew people who were going to college with promises of huge student debt and unlikely employment.

    So he said he chose to at least get four years of employment and benefits via the military route. Other younge people clearly feel the same way as the news said that the military had succeeded in recruiting its full numbers needed in all four branches of the service for the last two years or so.

    College is not for everyone. In today’s world, student debt to take classes like psychology and health education don’t make sense. Employment skills are the key.

  10. Reality Check says:

    This country does not need to keep pumping out more graduates with degrees in liberal arts. The market for those job skills is saturated. Germany, a high-wage country, successfully competes in the world because its work forces is technically educated. Ours is not.

    Unfortunately, the division of money favors “university” education, of any major. Try to change the spending formula, scholarships and loans, and see what happens. If you think Big Business and Big Labor have powerful lobbies in Washington and Sacramento, they’re wimps compared to the Education Lobby.

  11. Bold Idea says:

    This guy proves the point, not everybody needs to go to college. No everybody should go to college.

    Did you here that Obama and democrats? A college education should not be an entitlement.

    Many parents can’t afford to send their childen to college now and it makes too much common sense to offer an alternative to students who don’t see any future in college or for that matter graduating from high school.

    Trade schools would be a wonderful way to keep America in the technical international workforce game. It sure isn’t working the way it is.

  12. Shirley Durban says:

    Now that’s the Sort o’ thinking that we need! The shop teachers hail your thinking, David. And I think the kindergarten teachers may also be on your wagon. The world is a diverse one, filled with different folks who take different strokes. But what has happened to this kinders garten. It certainly isn’t a kinder, gentler one for any, no matter what their age.

    I love my mechanic, Bill, who does excellent work on my car, who trained while in high school and is a very generous, sweet man. I love my plumbers, Joe and Scott, who learned the trade while in school and learned the rest from their uncles and fathers. I love my arborist and gardeners who started in high school, struggling with school, but finding soulful satisfaction and self worth through their early work. I love my bike mechanic, Ted who found his way through his journey, like the film Radio Flyer, biking hard through and over the mountains of Marin, fleeing school early but sticking with a craft.

    The proof of a strong nation is not higher test scores that drive those who learn differently from our schools, into a nether-world that one can easily fall from the game without keystone support systems.

    The new academic ‘rigor’ to keep up with the wishes of our national chamber of commerce and those conservatives who scream ever so loudly that, ‘We’re not good enough!’ to our youth have not served our nation.

    I hope that Mr. Torlakson, Mr. Herrington, and all the other PhD’s, and politicos take heed of your thinking so we can get back on the path of truly supporting our youth and the future of our fine country. Thank you, Mr. David.

  13. County Worker says:

    The article in the PD several years ago shows the schools were not helping. If you know there is a problem, you can work towards a solution. However, SR High has not reported their 40% drop out rate and kept kids on the roles to collect a couple extra million. When someone notice 40% of their seniors did not attend graduation, they admitted they had dropped out and the school took the money anyways. When you can profit from not reporting accurate stats, it is hard to get them involved in the solution process.

  14. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Do WE want a society of incarceration
    or education?
    Education IS cheaper, better.
    Wonder what Agenda 21 would socially engineer for us?