Rahm Emanuel Drops the Ball on School Dropouts

A leading activist exposes why Emanuel's plan to cut dropout rates is a cure worse than the disease.

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My guest today is Rob Nelson, a political activist who works on behalf of Right To Succeed, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that has launched its "Drop 50" campaign, which aims to cut school dropout rates throughout Los Angeles and the nation at large.

Glazov: Rob Nelson, thanks for joining me.

I would like to talk to you today about Rahm Emanuel's recent stated plan on passing a law that punishes kids who drop out of school. This is a subject very close to your heart and to the purpose of your organization, which I would also like to let our readers get familiar with. First things first, tell us about Emanuel's proposed idea and what you think about it.

Nelson: First, thanks for doing this interview, Jamie.

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has issued a seven-page education plan in which he's proposing a law that immediately revokes the driver's license of any student who drops out of high school. OK, these kids are already in jeopardy. They're already at risk of having limited abilities to contribute to society, so now you want to take away their driver's licenses? Now you want to make them even more incapable of having a job or being productive? It's absurd. And it completely misses the mark of what the real problem is.

First of all, kids drop out for so many reasons. It's a terrible choice obviously, but that we've let our dropout rates get so high is our failure more than the kids'. The real problem is that the schools are failing the kids, not the other way around.

Does Rahm Emanuel really think his strategy will change anything or get to the root of the problem? Does he think that when half your kids are dropping out of school that if you take away their driver's licenses, they'll all suddenly stay or come back? It's really out of touch with the problem.

How about this instead? How about taking some leadership and instead of penalizing the kids further for a system that is clearly failing them, take real action to reform the system itself, starting by taking our Right To Succeed Drop 50 Pledge and making a public commitment to cut Chicago's nearly 50 percent dropout rate in half. That's the right thing for the mayor-elect to do: to hold himself publicly accountable to a meaningful and measurable outcome of school performance, rather than punishing those whose individual failure is essentially proof of a system-wide failure and of a public-school system in serious need of reform.

Glazov: OK, so let's get to your Right To Succeed Drop 50 Pledge and your campaign. But first, let our readers know about the dropout rate in American high schools. How many high-school students actually graduate?

Nelson: Well the reason this issue is staring us in the face is that school dropout rates is one of the biggest problems in America today. Los Angeles has the second worst graduation rate in the U.S. Almost 60 percent of kids drop out. That's right, only 40 percent of kids in the Los Angeles Unified School District graduate from high school. California on the whole isn't much better, with a 40 percent dropout rate. And that's not counting kids who drop out before high school. Believe it or not, the Department of Education estimates that around 9 percent of kids drop out in middle school. So when you add it all up, the average dropout rate in American public schools is around 40 percent.

Glazov: What are some of the causes of this disaster? How does it harm our culture and society?

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