Published 1969 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Keeping the Dropouts In In America, as in every advanced society, a good education is one of the most important possessions a young man or woman can have. Yet, an alarming number of our students fore go a good education by leaving school before graduation. Current National statistics, for instance, show that 28 percent of the pupils who enter the fifth grade will drop out of school before graduating from high school. In West Virginia, the figures are even higher. State officials report that 32 percent of the students reaching the fifth grade level will never receive a high school diploma. The problem is serious enough that, in 1968, President Johnson requested $24 million for the first federally-sponsored dropout prevention program. A House committee voted against the program; but a Senate Appropriations subcommittee managed to salvage $5 million to launch the attack against the dropout problem. The budget request for Fiscal Year 1970 is $15 million; and, although the House has moved to reduce that to $5 million, I am hopeful that our subcommittee will again be able to increase the appropriations for dropout prevention. Under the proposed budget request, programs would be aimed at encouraging students to enter vocational training, rather than drop out of school. Officials of the U.S. Department of Education report that one of the main reasons why students fail to finish high school is that their talents are not properly channeled at an early age. Too much emphasis has been placed on straight academic curricula, and too little on vocational education. The dropout prevention program would devote part of the school time to on-the-job training, with some of the teachers being chosen from the ranks of skilled craftsmen. Even the strictly academic subjects could be taught at the site of the student's job, since educators have found that many students respond more favorably in a work environment than they do in a classroom. The dropout prevention program is a good beginning, but much more work remains to be done in this field. In our state, officials report that 4.38 percent of all the students in grades 7-12 dropped out during last year alone. West Virginia and the Nation need the talent of these young people; and we cannot sit idly by and watch that talent go to waste.