Mattapan forum tallies high cost of dropouts

Christopher S. Pineo | 5/20/2009, 4:30 a.m.

High dropout rates among Boston’s inner-city high school students can prove costly on a number of levels, from missed opportunities and delayed development to actual lost dollars, according to speakers at a Mattapan roundtable held Monday.

Factoring in lower earnings, income and payroll tax contributions, as well as higher Medicaid, Medicare, public assistance and incarceration costs, among other factors, dropouts cost Massachusetts tens of millions of dollars every year, said Kathy Hamilton, a youth policy coordinator with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), during the discussion at the new Mattapan branch of the Boston Public Library, hosted by the Mattapan Adult Education and Literacy Coalition.

But, Hamilton and her PIC colleagues added, the problem goes beyond dollars and cents, and finding a solution will require a concerted community effort.

They outlined more specific details of the dropout rate problem in a slideshow presentation. Among them: While the city’s dropout rate has decreased over the past three years, the percentage of black and Hispanic students who exit the system is still higher than other ethnic groups.

On the plus side, the rate of high school students who dropped out of Boston Public Schools has seen a steady decline, from a 15-year high of 9.9 percent in the 2005-2006 school year to 8.9 percent in ’06-’07 and 7.6 percent in ’07-’08, according to state Department of Education statistics.

At the same time, however, during the 2007-2008 school year, black (7.4 percent) and Hispanic (10.2 percent) students dropped out at far higher rates than their white (5.3 percent) and Asian (2.5 percent) counterparts.

Hamilton called the dropout problem a “civil rights issue.” One of her colleagues, Marvin Moore, said it is something that community groups can deal with, as long as they maintain engagement with young people.

Moore recounted his own story, which included throwing his father out of the house when he was just 14. After becoming the man of the house, Moore began to veer off of the educational path. He stopped attending school and dropped out when he was 15, but managed to get back on track, returning to school at 17. After a post-graduation year, he went on to attend and graduate from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He said sharing that story has helped him engage the youth in his role as a dropout recovery specialist.

Jermaine Hamilton, 20, an intern with PIC, said that hearing the stories of Moore and others helped him to change the course of his own life.

“They told me their stories, which made it easier for me to tell them my story,” he said.

Jermaine Hamilton dropped out of school when he was 17. By that point, he had attended 13 different public schools, due to a series of moves and disciplinary problems. When he was told that he would have to attend school for three more years to catch up on his studies, he made the decision to drop out.

“At [that] time, I was convinced that school wasn’t for me,” he said.