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Should High School Dropouts Be Denied Driver's Licenses?

Minnesota's the latest state to revoke driver's licenses from teens who drop out, but that might not be the answer to the dropout crisis?

Want to drive? Don't drop out of high school. That's the thinking behind a slew of drop out prevention laws cropping up nationwide. Twenty states already link the ability to legally drive with staying in school, and Minnesota legislators are currently reviewing a bill that will make them the 21st. Sure, being able to drive is a privilege, but is taking away licenses really the most effective way to make kids stay in school?

These laws have a needlessly punitive effect on dropouts who are either seeking employment or need to drive to and from a current job. And, oddly, attending school in the state is only compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Once a child is between 16 and 18, they merely need written consent from a parent or guardian to leave school. Minnesota Department of Education statistics show that in 2009, 4,000 students dropped out of school, so getting that consent must not be that much of a problem.

These take-away-the-license laws are popular because we want a silver bullet to solve our dropout crisis. But, the reasons kids drop out of school are complex and actually have nothing to do with the desire to drive a car. Many students who drop out face tough personal hardships, like homelessness, lack of health care, hunger and abuse. Dropouts also often have longstanding attendance problems, disciplinary issues and are below grade level in reading and math. They stop going to school because they're bored, unmotivated, or can't keep up with the work—not because they're dying to get behind the wheel.

Not surprisingly, research on these laws doesn't indicate that they're effective. Taking away the legal ability to get around sounds like a "tough" crack down on dropouts and teen truancy, but it doesn't address the root causes of students dropping out. If states don't invest in real dropout prevention, it just sounds like they're setting themselves up to have a bunch of illegal drivers.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker

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