Many students work hard and achieve great success at Haverhill High School, and, with the help of dedicated teachers and staff, graduate and lead productive lives in our community. We should continue to support these hard-working students, but we also must address the high number of dropouts.
The Haverhill High School dropout rate affects us all, not just the student who decides to leave school before graduation. A recent Northeastern University study found that more than 80 percent of the incarcerated population in the United States are high school dropouts.
The study also found that the financial ramifications of dropping out of high school hurt more than the individual who drops out. The study estimated that half of all Americans on public assistance are dropouts. If all of the dropouts from the class of 2011 had earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetimes.
As the Northeastern University study demonstrates, the dropout issue also is a public safety issue, a tax issue, and an economic issue.
In Haverhill specifically, the dropout rate is higher than almost all other Massachusetts school districts, according to data collected and analyzed by Haverhill economist Tom Grannemann. Dropout rates have been declining nationwide, in Massachusetts, and in Haverhill, but Haverhill's dropout rates remain well above the state average.
"... Haverhill dropout rates remain more than double the state average," Grannemann writes on his Benchmark Haverhill Schools website. "By nearly all measures, Haverhill dropout rates are high relative to other Massachusetts cities with comparable income and population characteristics. Haverhill's dropout rates have been inconsistent over time. Annual results by class seem to suggest ... [a] lower dropout [rate] for this year's graduating class, but show a recent spike in 9th grade dropouts in each of the past two years. This suggests a continuing problem, particularly in the middle-school/high-school transition period."
There are not any simple solutions to the dropout rate. The city needs a multi-faceted, long-term strategic plan to combat the persistent dropout problem.
Besides teachers, staff, administrators, and the School Committee, local civic groups, nonprofits, businesses, and concerned citizens will need to get involved to prevent at-risk youth from choosing to leave school before graduation. We also should strengthen and expand dropout prevention programs that have had success, such as the alternative "HALT" program at Haverhill High School.
We will need a citywide effort.
The good news is that Haverhill can meet this challenge by bringing together people from every corner of our city for a common goal. Haverhill is up to the challenge, and it will be worth the effort.