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In U.S. High Schools, Too Many Empty Seats

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

For those concerned about the state of leadership in America, and who wonder where the next generation of leaders will come from, I can tell you it's not likely to emerge from the millions of high school dropouts we're setting loose in the land. The U.S. has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrial world, which can't be comforting news in the ferociously competitive environment of an increasingly globalized economy. Dropouts, on average, earn $9,245 less per year than high school graduates; the poverty rate for families headed by dropouts is more than twice that for families headed by graduates; and dropouts are much more likely to be unemployed, less likely to vote, and more likely to be imprisoned. If we want to see a more creative and more effective approach to such crucial problems as war and peace, terror, employment, energy consumption, and so on, we'll need to rely on a much better-informed population than the U.S. has now.
—Bob Herbert [7/21/05]