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Education affects crime rate
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According to the California Dropout Research Project (CDRP), a recently-released study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, there is a definite correlation between the successful completion of high school and a young person's propensity for crime. In fact, according to the study, high school graduation "...reduces crime by 20 percent for murder, rape, and other violent crimes; by 11 percent for property crime; and by 12 percent for drug-related offenses." This study was managed by Russell W. Rumberger, professor of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The implications for this profound relationship between crime and high school education are many. First, there is the quality of life and public safety aspect for the community. Less crime means people enjoy a greater sense of security while at home or traveling. Crime, of course, costs taxpayers billions each year both directly and indirectly. The cost of policing, making arrests, prosecution, incarceration, legal defenses coupled with the cost to victims for injury or property loss is staggering. Couple the aforementioned with the lost productivity associated of being locked up in jail or prison, and the picture becomes quite clear: prevention pays off huge dividends!

As I have stated in previous columns on this subject, undereducated teens are not competitive in the job market, they are likely to earn less than their educated counterparts, and they are likely to experience lower self-esteem. Those factors combined lead to more brushes with the law and a sense of powerlessness. These psychological aspects, for some people, increase the chances for violent and anti-social behavior. Some 80 percent of prisoners in our state penal system have not graduated from high school.

One more alarming fact listed in the CDRP report is, in California, fewer than 75 percent of ninth-graders will complete high school. In some areas, the high school completion rate is less than 50 percent! This amounts to nothing short of an impending crisis, regardless of the reasons and the potential for crime. The adverse social implications for this trend are enormous.

The problem of a high rate of high school drop outs is complex having many underlying reasons. For some, staying in school is an economic problem because families cannot make ends meet without the children taking on employment. In my view, society does not place enough emphasis on education. For evidence of my assertion, all one has to do is to look at developing countries such as China, Korea, India and others that are producing far more engineers, doctors and other professionals than we are here in the United States. It also seems that many schools are too crowded with inadequate facilities and with classrooms that have an unacceptably high student-to-teacher ratio. Overcrowding leads to students feeling unimportant. And for those who encounter learning problems, rather than working through their difficulties, they simply drop out because the teachers are too busy to deal with them at the individual level.

As far as the solutions, the very first step is for all parents to make the education of their kids a top, non-negotiable priority. School facilities must be comfortable, in good repair and of adequate size and functions. We need more teachers, and at the national level, education has to become a continuous and major topic of discussion. It has to be a clear-cut national priority, embraced by all.

There are many programs that are designed to address the problems that lead to high school drop outs. Some examples are the "High Quality Pre-School" program, the targeted dropout-prevention programs and the First Things First program which entails smaller learning environments, use of family advocates and overall instructional improvement. Above all, however, parental emphasis on education and proper classroom size and facilities are key to tackling the high school drop out problem.

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