Steep Cost Of Failure

Payson High School

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Payson High School


During any week at Payson High School (PHS), 8 percent of the student body fails one or more classes.

And just about each week, PHS art teacher George Conley keeps stats on how many students fail individual subjects so he can determine eligibility to play sports and go on field trips.

But Conley does not believe these kids are failures. If he can give students the support they need, he believes they can turn things around. So five years ago, he created the Academic Committee to help students pass their classes.

Conley said he focuses on positive reinforcement in the Academic Committee meetings.

“I want all of our students to succeed and reach their full potential,” said Conley. “The meetings aren’t punitive, but provide advice and encouragement to students regarding how they can improve their academic performance.”

Conley recognizes the consequences of flunking out of high school.

“Our students who fail their classes face both short-term issues during their high school career and long-term issues that can negatively affect their future lives,” said Conley.

A study prepared by the Center for Labor Market Studies of Northeastern University in Connecticut illustrated the enormous social costs of failure in school.

Researchers found that those that received a master’s degree or higher paid $217,000 more in taxes than they used in services during their lifetime. By contrast, high school dropouts used $98,000 more in public services than they paid in taxes.


Teacher George Conley

More disturbing, 10 percent of those without a high school degree ended up in jail or prison — a rate 100 times higher than those with a graduate degree.

Informally, Conley calls the program, “Get Your Brain On.” He has kept data over the last several years that tracks enrollment and comparative data on how many kids fail.

Overall, he has seen improvement.

“Although quite frequently it takes a lot of time, over the years there have been many kids that I have met with who have improved their academic performance, which I find very rewarding,” he said.

Over the past five years, the program has evolved from Conley and an administrator meeting with failing students, to Conley meeting with students and their parents, to now Conley meeting one-on-one with each student.

“I just call in a kid, tell them that the meeting is to help them improve their grades and then dig into why they are failing,” he said. “Some are failing several classes. Then we agree on a plan and they have the ball to work the plan. Sometimes I have to meet with kids several times.”

Other teachers have begun to see the benefit of the Academic Committee program.

“A neat part of the program is that other teachers have begun to have similar conversations with their students who are failing,” he said. “Teachers such as Kathy Siler, regularly meet with their students to discuss their grades. Plus, now that we have a Career Training Period, we pass out student progress reports and all teachers review students’ grades with them. However, some teachers are better at it than others.”

Costs of failure

The Center for Labor Market Studies of Northeastern University in Connecticut gathered information on the financial contributions adults in their state made throughout their lifetime.

(To see the report go to / dropout_crisis/FiscalImpactsPaperforCT.pdf)

The study of 63,000 Connecticut families analyzed adults from the ages of 18 to 64 and how their level of education affected how much property, Social Security, federal, state, local and sales tax they paid in their lifetime.

The study also examined the cost to society in providing services to those who did not finish high school, including welfare, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, rental subsidies, energy assistance, criminal justice costs and Medicaid benefits.

The statistics below show the mean lifetime net fiscal contributions by educational attainment.

HS dropout: -$98,653

HS graduate: +$113,928

Some college: +$189,315

College BA: +$282,786

Grad degree: +$217,971


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