High school to prison pipeline powered by dropouts

A new report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University looks at how many prison inmates are high school dropouts.

I doubt anyone will be surprised that the study — The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School — documents high incarceration rates among dropouts.

The study found that:

The incidence of institutionalization problems among young high school dropouts was more than 63 times higher than among young four year college graduates.

Nearly 1 of every 10 young male high school dropouts was institutionalized on a given day in 2006-2007 versus fewer than 1 of 33 high school graduates, 1 of 100 of those out-of-school young men who completed 1-3 years of post-secondary schooling, and only 1 of 500 men who held a bachelor’s or higher degree.

The nation’s young high school dropouts in 2006-2007 were nearly four times as likely as their peers with a bachelor’s or higher academic degree to be living in a family with an annual money income below 125% of the poverty line.

The average high school dropout will cost taxpayers over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and imposed incarceration costs relative to an average high school graduate.

In its finding on the cost of dropouts to the rest of us, the study makes a strong argument for better funding of dropout prevention efforts. But I don’t think anyone is in the mood right now to fund new programs.

So what can be done at current funding levels? At a recent UGA conference, a researcher explained the need of connections and relationships to keep kids in high school. (The research on college dropouts says the same thing.)

But I think forming close relationships with potential dropouts is hard for teachers. These are the kids who don’t show up for class, who don’t respond to the teacher’s efforts and who bog down the class. In my classroom experience, it seems much more likely that  teachers will bond with the kids who try in class and who make the teacher feel effective and competent.

Are the Georgia graduation coaches — a friend of mine calls them “paid cheerleaders” – able to reach prospective dropouts and form real connections? Or are there too many future dropouts and too few coaches?

30 comments Add your comment


October 11th, 2009
10:27 pm

I think what is not in this study is the number of kids who drop out because they can’t conform to the rules of society (and school). Many of the people who end up in prison don’t think the rules really apply to them, they were most likely the same way in high school. Some drop out to make money and find out there aren’t many high paying jobs for high school drop outs, many end up making money any way they can…mostly by doing things illegally.

And “duh!” on the people with college degrees not ending up in prison at the same rate as drop outs. These folks have too much to lose and have probably worked pretty hard to get where they are. It’s hard to find time to be a criminal if you work full time.

Maureen's accountability metric

October 11th, 2009
10:28 pm

Maureen have you ever stopped to consider how the lack of consequences, and the lack of discipline throughout the school system leads to a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome when it comes to warning students about the consequences of dropping out?

But what have the public schools essentially taught a tenth grader on the verge of dropping out? They’ve taught them, for ten years, that there are no real consequences for their actions.

Disrupt a class? Get a reprimand and a pep talk, and then get sent back to class to repeat the process all over again; for years on end, no less.

Fail your coursework? No big deal, if you passed the CRCT. But what if you fail the CRCT? Still no big deal, more than likely you’ll get promoted anyway. Only to repeat the same scenario again and again and again. No wonder children don’t think consequences for poor academic performance are real. They’ve been protected from them their entire lives.

Wouldn’t it be better if students learned the lessons of personal responsibility and following the accepted social order in schools that had real consequences for real misbehavior, so that they didn’t have to learn these lessons in potentially more painful manner later on in life? Even if that meant some of the more chronically disruptive had to learn those lessons in alternative schools that could give them the sense of structure and discipline that many of them clearly need?

Wouldn’t that be so much better than a never ending string of “blue ribbon panels” who cry “oh the children” and reinforce their victim status, even as we practically raise them, with a lack of consequences in the schools, to engage in predatory actions for which we will eventually have to incarcerate many of them?


October 11th, 2009
11:01 pm

I think there are also studies out there about the literacy levels of those who end up in prison. I think Ernest has a point about not being able to conform to the rules, but I also think a lot of these students have really low skill levels, and have been socially promoted rather than remediated throughout elementary and middle schools. When they get to high school, they can’t do the work, so they quit.


October 11th, 2009
11:02 pm

Sorry, Echo, not Ernest…


October 11th, 2009
11:10 pm

Why is a student considered a drop out if they take more than 4 years of high school plus one summer to graduate. This is not done for college graduates? This is not done in any other statistic. A lawyer that takes an extra year to complete school or pass the bar exam is still a lawyer.
Our silly rules create more dropouts.


October 11th, 2009
11:16 pm

If the GED is not a diploma then why is it called a diploma? Why is getting a GED considered a drop out? A person with a GED can get the same jobs as those with a HS diploma. A person with a GED can get into college. So, why are these students counted as dropouts? Another silly rule.
The rules push students out of the system and eventually into dead in lives.
Helping those students that struggle with silly rules to adapt and overcome systems leads to successful individuals and better communities.


October 12th, 2009
12:37 am

This is the DEUUUUUH column of the year….

Maureen's accountability metric

October 12th, 2009
12:47 am

Another lost post; I guess seeing the words “consequences” and “public schools” in the same post was just too much for the sensibilities of the blog monster.

Shananeeeeee Fananeeeeeeee

October 12th, 2009
1:30 am

Wow, they are really on to a new discovery here. How long did it take them to figure out this one? Maybe Obama will inspire young men now…………….Oh wait, he has been in office for 9 months and the crimes in cities keep happening on a regular basis. I have an idea, you go and find the at risk students in maybe the 8th or 9th grade and go to community centers in the city and sit the 13+ year olds in a room. Then you show these students and kids a couple of these good prison documentaries and show them what is in store for them if they go to prison. Do this about 4 times a year and I guarentee you will scare some of these kids into working hard in school and make them think twice about commiting a crime. I saw a documentary about a maximum security prison here in Georgia and anyone that watches it will never want to end up in a place like this.


October 12th, 2009
5:23 am

important note: which classes are being fazed out of public funding, but provide the most opportunity for student buy-in and developing student-teacher relationships? hint: these subjects don’t suffer from the inevitable pressures of continuous state & nat’l testing mandates.


October 12th, 2009
5:36 am

Funny… i thought the high rates of blacks in prison was due to “racism” LOL


October 12th, 2009
8:24 am

This report shows CORELATIONS and not CAUSES. There are many reasons that students drop out of school and many of these reasons are the same ones that land people in jail.

Overgeneralizing from reports like this lead people to think that dropping out of school causes people to end up in jail. This could not be further from the truth. there is a coincidental relationship and it is rather high, thus the strong corelation.

By singling out schools, people are quick to think that schools should be able to prevent the future incarceration of potential dropous. Schools may be one tool that could help prevent this, but there are other components that must be considered, too. Social issues that lead up to dropping out, poor performance in the classroom, and bad behavior must also be considered.

Some of the potential jail birds bog teachers down and should not be in school. They interfere with the learning of others by disrupting class, creating threatening environments, and through non-participation. I don’t want children with traits like that tearing down the opportunities for others.

Keeping more of the students with severe issues like this in school is costly. Economics gives us the Law of Decreasing Returns. This law applies to educational environments, too. As we push to increase the graduation rate, it will cost more and more to keep unmotivated and disruptive students in the classroom.

Are we willing to pay these costs?


October 12th, 2009
8:36 am

There is only one reason a child drops out of school. Lousy Parents!!! Graduation coaching doesn’t do any good for some because they get their lazy, I deserve something for nothing attitude from their parents. It’s the mentality that we are instilling in kids today. We teach them that “everyone is special” and “everyone is equal” and “all deserve the same things”!! You deserve what you get off your butt and work for, that’s what we should be teaching kids. Life is tough and if you don’t work hard, you don’t get very far. All the hand holding and being carefull we don’t hurt kids feelings these days is what is hurting them in the long run.

Gwinnett HIgh School Teacher

October 12th, 2009
8:41 am

Just an FYI-the DOE publishes an “at risk” list for each school. The list issues students a percentage score-determining how likely they are of NOT graduating.The percentage score is calculated based on attendance, grades, test scores,and socioeconomic factors. In my school for example with almost 1000 students there are over 600 on “the list”-That doesn’t mean they won’t ALL drop out, but there is that possibility. Can the grad coach do the job of helping over 600 kids? You do the math! The solution is making this a COMMUNITY issue- parents, TEACHERS, the grad coach, ADMINISTRATORS,everyone that deals with the student, must be motivated to build relationships.It only takes a couple of minutes to ask a student how their weekend was,or comment on a different outfit or new hairstyle,or to make notice of a game score.Think about the students that are struggling the most and make an attempt to show those students that you care not only about their grades but about them as people. If one student decided to stay in school because of the concern he/she was shown, isn’t it worth it?


October 12th, 2009
8:58 am

The problem with graduation coaches is that they have no specific definition to their job. They are made to do the “stuff admin doesn’t want to do”. I do not understand this position and I think its a waste of funding.
We also need more discipline in school and school choice. Students in tough neighborhoods actually respond well to discipline, they want it just many have never had it. They respect teachers that are tough but fair and show them respect and care. Some teachers try to dumb material down for students and/or try to befriend them. Kids see right through that and lose respect. Once respect is lost by kids who have no reason to respect authority you’re never going to educate that student. We also need more schools that cater to specific talents or interests. Whatever happened to industrial arts or vo-tech?


October 12th, 2009
10:27 am

How, in a supposed civilized society, is this not a cornerstone issue when discussing education?

Though there will never be an educational utopia, things could be so much better.

But it would cost money. And as long as buying yacht furniture is more important that ’someone else’s kid’ – it’ll never happen.

Raise taxes. I’m game.


October 12th, 2009
10:35 am

@ Braves Fan—-One thing I have learned in the past 7 years is that institutionalized racism is prevalent in education. Poor students will receive a far less quality education than middle class and upper class students. And poor students tend to be minority students.


October 12th, 2009
10:54 am

Gwinnett High School Teacher – if you are in Gwinnett , and the amount of students in your school is accurate…then I want to give you a heads up – it is very possible that your school abolished the grad coach role via “flexibility” from IE2. Our schools flexibility plan in Gwinnett says that grad coaches will now be assigned to other duties outside of the intent of the grad coach role. I absolutely agree with your comments, but now those grad coaches, at least in our small high school with probably as many or more “at risk” are going to be spread even thinner. And we gave away our rights to let this happen.

Fulton Teacher

October 12th, 2009
12:13 pm

I completely agree that intervening when a student is in high school is basically futile. Students who lack the skills to complete high school level work will not learn those skills simply by taking the classes over and over. I doubt that any graduation coach will make a significat impact on these students. Tony also makes a good point. If we are spinning our wheels trying to remediate students who should not have been promoted to high school to begin with, then we are neglecting the other students (the majoritiy) who are on track.


October 12th, 2009
12:39 pm

PLEASE make an EFFORT to delineate between causation and correlation. This is yet ANOTHER money wasting tabs-type study which unsophisticated people seize upon to infer causality. People who end up in jail TEND TO BE those who are unmotivated by “traditional society norms”, less intelligent, less disciplined, lower income, lower parental education, single-parent–the same as those who TEND TO drop out of school. So should we “make it easier” to get a diploma to keep them out of jail? No. Is a diploma the magic pill? NO.

It’s like saying being fair causes skin cancer. There is a CORRELATION, not CAUSATION. Would dying their hair dark and giving them dark contacts change this? No.

Should we write these folks off? Does that mean we should give up? No. But we should acknowledge that there is a limit for what we (educators) can do. Right now our elementary schools are doing everything they can to offer needs based classes in addition to regular classes, trying to pull these students up, with very limited success. As long as you have “no fail” and “no discipline” and “no homework” policies, you get (from a lot of folks) what you ask for: NOTHING.

On middle and high school coaches: they are a waste. (Have they saved a few kids? Sure. But in terms of cost effectiveness, NO.) The die is cast LONG before middle school. Assign “parenting coaches” upon the baby leaving the hospital. THEN you have SOME chance.

Concerned in Gwinnett

October 12th, 2009
3:18 pm

It is cheaper to educate than incarcerate. Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (www.pbis.org) is one suggestion and has been proven to reduce discipline referrals. Kudos to the Gwinnett HS teacher. Children do not choose their parents and often teachers have no idea what is going on at home. I agree with Science Teacher and that those in the prison system do have much lower literacy skills. If Georgians continue to be unconcerned about the low graduation and high incarceration rates, how will we ever improve or find solutions? How do you stop the cycle?

“Removal from school reduces the amount of time students spend receiving instruction, which has been shown to be the strongest predictor of school achievement, and leaves children at home or on the streets, which increases their risk for contact with the juvenile justice system. Equally important, studies by the American Psychological Association and others failed to find any evidence that the use of zero tolerance, suspensions and expulsions leads to improvements in student behavior or school climate.”


October 12th, 2009
5:12 pm

Concerned in Gwinnett: my system (about 4000 students) virtually NEVER suspends students. So why are we near the bottom in graduation rate? In part, because we virtually never suspend unruly students, and the marginal kids get tired of it, and, lacking family support, drop out of the bad situation. Nobody is for wholesale expulsions, but around here if you get put out of school it is for major criminal activity.

Removal from school of chronically disruptive students does reduce the amount of time that student is exposed to instruction, but INCREASES EXPONENTIALLY the amount of time the other 30+ in the class get.

And I maintain the kids who are chronic behavior problems in 3rd grade will continue to their mayhem all the way through school, visiting it upon each group of students unlucky enough to have the disruptive as a “classmate.”

BTW, let’s see that PBIS put into action by these “experts” in real schools. I am sure the readers of this blog can suggest some. No specially picked classes, no fanfare. Let the rubber meet the road.

[...] story here Maureen Downey Student Lending Analytics Blog: Point/Counterpoint: Are Changes [...]

Maureen's accountability metric

October 12th, 2009
6:05 pm

The one thing I would caution about programs that have been “proven to reduce discipline referrals” is that that is not necessarily the same thing as having been proven to improve behavior.

There have been plenty of programs that have come down the pike where referrals have been strongly discouraged if not completely swept under the rug, in order to “prove” the program is working.

Of course if these programs were really working then wouldn’t come-then go-but that’s what happens when it turns out only thing “working” in many of these programs is that the discipline numbers are being worked.

V for Vendetta

October 12th, 2009
7:56 pm

Concerned in Gwinnett,

You’re mistaken. The biggest predictor of academic success might be “receiving instruction,” but not in the matter you think. One of the biggest predictors of academic success is a child’s educational development prior to age five. Once a child enters kindergarten intellectually behind his or her peers, it is almost impossible for him or her to catch up. The reason is obvious: Although the student might be receiving adequate instruction at school, he is floating adrift at home. There is no reinforcement of learned material, no motivation, and no support. A student almost never develops any sort of intrinsic motivation on his own (though some are more naturally motivated than others).

The school to prison pipeline is narrow-minded garbage because it fails to place the true blame where it is deserved–on the parents. It also asserts that schools can somehow overcome a child’s depraved homelife. In essence, it is altruistic in its intention, placing the burden on others and expecting them to solve the problem. As long as the wealth of the producers is redistributed to the moochers based on the number of children they have, as long as the government takes care of people who do nothing and bails them out of their own asinine financial mistakes, as long the blame for failure is levied upon those who succeed, there will never be an end to problems like this.

Concerned in Gwinnett

October 12th, 2009
8:46 pm

PBIS is designed to be implemented school wide and not specially picked classes. However, speaking of “special” classes… both the in-school and out-of-school suspension rates tripled in one year for students with disabilities according to the 2008-2009 Gwinnett Discipline Report… looks like they ARE working the discipline numbers. Perhaps I’m the only one to find that alarming. PBIS alone may not be the magic bullet but it’s a start in the right direction.

PBIS has been implemented in areas with some of the worst drop out rates in the nation such as Jefferson Parish in Louisiana.
“SPLC Releases Blueprint to Reduce Student, Teacher Dropouts in Louisiana”

PBIS was also implemented in North Carolina…
“Lee County Dropout Rate Continues to Decline
Rate Falls to Lowest in Ten Years, District Recognized by State Board”


October 13th, 2009
9:21 am

Is anyone doing a study on how many dropouts might have a physical problem, such as ADHD, fetal alcohol syndrome, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (2nd trimester maternal drinking)? ADHD is vastly overdiagnosed but at the same time, real, and visible on brain scans. At present, there is no physical test for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders although Canadian researchers are working on it.
Both the students and schools would be better served by having a voucher system for medical care when students begin showing problems. These medical-diagnosis vouchers could only be used for diagnoses, evaluations, and out-of-school care; if they are left within the school budget, they will not be used for special-needs students–that’s just the way it goes.

Drew (ISS)

October 13th, 2009
3:07 pm

I’m sure that if you check the level that most prisoners read, You wil find a pattern. “Reading is Fundmamental” in the development of young students.

Rural Education

October 13th, 2009
9:47 pm

The system I teach keeps no one in the 8th grade, even if they fail every section of the CRCT. So they come to high school with a much diminished chance of success. Why do they pass them along, because they are afraid to enforce the current law. The child’s self esteem may suffer.


October 14th, 2009
6:01 pm

When was the last time a doctor or a lawyer modified his approach to doing the job in accordance to the directives of the patient/client/parent? NEVER! If parents were to barge into the O.R. to advise doc on a particular procedure for junior, they would, in all probability, be escorted to the brig. Likewise the legal eagle…interfere with the proceedings and “that’ll be another coupla hundred bucks for my time”! Why is it, then, that teachers cannot educate/discipline their charges without the input of mom, dad, granny and the entire cast of “interested parties” who need to allow the education system to do what they do? Sure, when/if input is needed, by all means go for it…otherwise, parents, butt out. Your kid, in the eyes of the system, is no different than the vast sea of other kids (contrary to what the ed elite would have you believing). Once this individuality nonesense subsides and kids realize the concept of “earned status” (you are what you make of yourself, not what is your perceived birthright allows), we just might be at the starting gate of developing young folks for bright futures, not lives of mediocrity.