STATEMENT BY STATE SUPERINTENDENT MIKE WARD ON RAISING THE LEGAL ATTENDANCE AGE
North Carolina sends the wrong message to young people and their families by continuing to allow students to legally drop out of high school when they turn 16. It is time to raise the legal school attendance age to 18, an age that better reflects the maturity required to make such an important and life-changing decision.
At this time in our history, we know that students need a stronger array of skills in order to be successful adults. We shouldn't allow students to opt out of school at age 16, which can be a pivotal time in young people's lives since it also is the age at which students can legally drive and obtain a work permit.
This spring, I will ask the State Board of Education to include this issue in its legislative agenda.
Changing the law is important, but it will only be effective with strengthened programs for students who are at-risk of dropping out. We don't need 17- and 18-year-old uninterested students disrupting classes because they do not want to be there. There must be support systems and quality alternatives for students who would otherwise drop out.
Raising the dropout age also will make it even more critical that teachers and principals identify at-risk students earlier. North Carolina took an important step when the new student accountability standards were approved. This year, for the first time, students in grades 3, 5 and 8 are required to demonstrate that they are proficient in the basics in order to be promoted. The state's proficiency levels are set so that students who are proficient should have the skills they need for success at the next grade level. Because of the higher standard, schools already are identifying students who may have difficulty and are providing extra academic assistance and other services.
Of course, such additional support takes resources. That is why the State Board of Education and I will continue to vigorously pursue additional appropriations from the General Assembly for at-risk students. Over the past few years, we have significantly increased funding which helps our most vulnerable students. These resources include funding for remediation, targeted class size reduction, dropout prevention and specific initiatives designed to help students succeed in their core academic subjects.
In 2000-01, the number of students dropping out of school decreased 9 percent from the previous year to 22,365 - a number that is still much too high. If North Carolina raises the attendance age, it will join 13 other states, including Virginia and Texas, that require school attendance until age 18.
We should not continue to send the message to any young person or family that dropping out is acceptable. Leaving the legal attendance age at 16 may unwittingly send that message. Before making a decision that can be so detrimental to themselves and the community, I believe students should be legal adults.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.