What’s a good way to see a decline in the crime rate? By making sure teens graduate from high school. Dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates and more than eight times as likely to be incarcerated, says “School or the Streets: Crime and America’s Dropout Crisis,” a report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit anti-crime organization comprised of more than 3,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders.
Across the country, 68 percent of state prison inmates don’t have a high school diploma. And according to researchers, a 10 percentage-point increase in graduation rates has historically reduced murder and assault rates by approximately 20 percent.
“Increasing graduation rates by 10 percentage points would prevent over 3,000 murders and nearly 175,000 aggravated assaults in America each year,” says the report.
Just how bad is the dropout rate in this country? Nationwide, an estimated three out of 10 high school students fail to graduate from high school on time, and for many cities and minority populations, the numbers are much worse. By one account, nationally nearly 50 percent of African-American and nearly 40 percent of Latino youths attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm, the study says.
“America faces a dropout crisis that poses a significant threat to public safety,” the report adds.
Although there are many national efforts to increase graduation rates, starting early is key—and one area that’s proven successful is by making sure little ones receive high-quality prekindergarten.
“Evidence from two long-term evaluations of the effects of pre-kindergarten programs show that participating in high-quality pre-kindergarten increases high school graduation rates by as much as 44 percent,” the study says.
Many states are seriously considering following the lead of Oklahoma, where 68 percent of all of the state’s four-year-olds are now enrolled in voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
Nationwide, the number of four-year-olds served by state pre-k programs has risen from 14 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2007. “[It’s a] definite progress, but far from where states should be,” the report says.