there have been many successful people who have droped [sic] out of school
My response to this was:
I think that I would ask for a definition of the word "many" in this context.
Nonetheless, yes, there are people who have been successful despite dropping out of school - but those people are the (exceedingly rare) exceptions and not the rule.
Sure enough, someone pulled out a small list of people who did well despite dropping out from school. The list they provided was Albert Einstein, The Wright Brothers, Billy Joel, Tom Cruise "and a ton more."
Well, right off the bat, we can eliminate Einstein. While he may have dropped out at one point, he did end up earning a PhD from the University of Zurich. We can, in theory, also eliminate Cruise who did graduate from high school, but we'll discuss him a bit later.
The Wright Brothers did not complete high school -- that is a fact. Nonetheless, they lived in an age when completing high school was more luxury than necessity. Many people in the 1880s and 1890s did not complete high school; they were often forced to go looking for work to help out the family. That reality, however, does not exist today. You really can't use The Wright Brothers as a comparison. Were they alive as teenagers today, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would complete their high school education.
Billy Joel and Tom Cruise have a fairly unique quality -- they have been blessed with very unique talents. Not any shlub off the street can walk into a studio and open a $100M movie based on name recognition alone. Not any shlub can announce a concert at Shea Stadium and sell out the tickets 45 minutes after they go on sale. The fact is that these people (like many professional athletes) have such unique skills that they don't need an advanced education to make a ton of money. But the fact of the matter is that the reason they can make so much money is because their skills are exceedingly rare. You can't tell the average kid "it's okay to drop out of high school like Celebrity X," because the average kid doesn't have the God-given unique talents that Celebrity X has.
That being said, let's talk about what the more typical kid might find. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the usual median weekly earnings of people in the US by education for Q3 2008:
Less Than High School: 471
High School Diploma: 618
Some College Education: 725
Bachelor's Degree: 1020
Bachelor's Degree or more: 1131
Advanced Degree: 1333
I have data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics going back to 2000 (email me if you want them, or you can get them from here), and the relationship between education and salary always holds. The more education the average person has, the more they earn.
Is it possible for a person with little or no education to strike it rich? Absolutely. But in just about every case, you'll find that the person either has an incredibly rare and valuable skill or is incredibly lucky (and won the lottery). For the other 99.99999% of the population, you need an education. In other words, you can't look at the exception and posit it as the rule.
It should be noted that an interesting development seems to be occurring in the chareidi world. The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that chareidim want to go to college. Many, however, cannot go to college because they lack the necessary skills that they would have learned in elementary and high school. However, I wonder if this isn't the beginning of a change in chareidi society towards seeing the value of a decent secular education as necessary to get by in day-to-day life. Even if these particular chareidim can never go to college, you can bet that they will see to it that their kids don't follow the same path that they did, and that their kids *will* get a decent high school education, even if they have to go through "back channels" to get it for them.
UPDATE (1:20 pm): The person who posted the original comment came back with this response, which I hereby dub "the stupidest quote of the day:"
i hold that statistics dont affect us yidden.