Improving Graduation Rates Can Cut Crime

Published March 1, 2008

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and other local law enforcement leaders have unveiled a report linking low graduation rates with violent crimes such as homicide and aggravated assault.

According to the authors, the dropout crisis is a substantial threat to public safety in California. An estimated one in three high school students statewide doesn’t graduate from high school on time.

“School or the Streets: Crime and California’s Dropout Crisis,” released December 13 by the California-based bipartisan organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, notes 68 percent of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma.

The report suggests just a 10 percentage point increase in graduation rates could reduce murder and assault by nearly 20 percent. That would prevent 500 murders and more than 20,000 aggravated assaults in California each year.

Poor Parenting

Bill Felkner, president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute in Rhode Island, criticized the logic of the report and sees it as a tactic for more government money and control.

“Correlating graduation rates and crime is a ‘symptom-effect’ strategy and not a ’cause-effect’ strategy,” Felkner said. “High crime only relates to poor graduation rates because those rates are a symptom of poor family conditions. Looking to public schools for the solution is a mistake.”

The report suggests several measures to improve graduation rates. Taking part in high-quality preschool, for example, can lead to a 44 percent increase in the high school graduation rate, and targeted dropout prevention programs, such as the Check & Connect program, which uses monitors to check whether high-risk students are in school, can also connect them with needed services, the report stated.

More Money

The report urges California to increase its investment in such programs.

“California is falling far short of the investment needed to substantially increase graduation rates,” the authors write, noting, “fewer than half of the state’s low-income 3- and 4-year-olds attend publicly funded preschools” and no schools in California provide Check & Connect dropout-prevention programs.

“Proven interventions that improve graduation rates are a smart investment for California,” the authors continue. “Even putting aside benefits to graduates themselves and the economy generally, each dollar invested in First Things First, quality preschool, and the other interventions proven to increase graduation rates generate[s] $2 to $4 in taxpayer savings alone.”

Parental Involvement

Felkner disagreed.

“We look at children in poverty and say that they need ‘pre-school’ learning because they are not getting the proper stimulus at home,” Felkner said. “Rather than dumping more money into programs that supplant parental involvement, why not put that effort into improving the parent involvement?

“That being said, in those areas where parent involvement is nearly nonexistent, this type of intervention is beneficial,” Felkner continued. “However, it can be most effective when done via community-based private and/or faith-based organizations.”

Dr. Sanjit Bagchi ([email protected]) writes from India.

For more information …

“School or the Streets: Crime and California’s Dropout Crisis,” Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, December 13, 2007: