Even in a week packed with all kinds of dire predictions about the economy, it was hard to ignore this headline: Kids Less Likely To Graduate Than Parents. (See the AP story here)
According to the report by the Education Trust, more than one in four high school students in the US drop out before graduating, and the numbers are even more alarming in urban schools. This makes the US the only industrialized country in which young people are less likely than their parents to earn a high school diploma.
There are plenty of reasons for hand wringing and navel gazing about what’s gone terribly wrong with our education system, but there’s also a surprising opportunity to offer high fives.
You see, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Obviously, there are a lot of kids dropping out of education altogether, but because the formula used for calculating graduation rates varies by state, we don’t really have any idea what those kids are doing once they leave high school. Homeschoolers, virtual students, those who spend a year abroad or get alternate types of diplomas (three of my four daughters fit this description) are all tossed into the drop-out pile.
As part of the research for my book, I’ve been fortunate to have an opportunity to talk to over a hundred students across the US who are the antithesis of the you-want-fries-with-that? image we hold of the high school drop-out. In fact, some of the most motivated, accomplished, articulate, and clear-headed students I’ve ever met would be counted in most state tallies as drop-outs. The good news is that they’re too busy racing through college, traveling around the world and landing their dream jobs to worry much about such labels.
That’s right. They’re “dropping out” of high school in order to fast track—they’re entering college early. And by the time their classmates are reaching for that high school diploma, these “drop-outs” have earned enough college credits to transfer as a junior to a four-year university. Many earn their college degree by the age of 20–with no debt—before their high school buddies have even picked a major, and they’ve spent enough time abroad to become fluent in a foreign language (or two or three) and develop a clearer perspective of themselves, their culture and the world in general.
Look, there’s no question that there are many challenges to overcome in our approach to education, but when you read about the low high school graduation rates, remember that there’s a silver lining: those numbers also reflect the fact that an increasing number of kids who are smart, bold, innovative and on fire to learn in an adult setting are leaving high school far behind in order to blast forward. These future leaders are defining education in new ways—and they’re the ones to watch.
We talk a lot about the need to pay attention to the way we educate our brightest students. What we don’t mention is that while we’re arguing about the best program to implement, these smart kids are finding creative ways to educate themselves.
We can learn a lot from them.
(Guest post by Maya Frost)