Washington, D.C. – A report released by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center provides some of the first positive signs that America is making progress in reducing a nationwide crisis in the number of students who drop out of high school. The number of high schools where 40 percent or more of the students fail to graduate fell significantly from 2002 to 2008, according to analysis of the most recent government data.
Nationwide, the number of “dropout factory” high schools fell by 13 percent – from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008. Experts say targeting these high schools for improvement is a critical part of turning around the nation’s dropout rate. While these schools represent a small fraction of all public high schools in America, they account for about half of all high school dropouts each year.
“Public schools are showing improvement thanks to reforms and other efforts that have been put in place, but we need to dramatically increase the pace of progress,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. “No principal, school board, teachers’ union or mayor can resolve a community’s dropout crisis alone. It takes everyone working together to make progress every year and build on success.”
Education leaders say that the new report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, shows progress is possible, even among schools in lower-income, urban and rural districts that many previously thought hopeless. The report was released by Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), founding chair, America’s Promise Alliance (the Alliance) and Alma J. Powell, the Alliance’s current chair. It was written by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center. The report’s lead sponsor is Target, along with sponsorship from AT&T and Pearson Foundation.
In March of this year, with the support of President Obama and Sec. Duncan, the Alliance and its more than 450 national partners launched Grad Nation—a multi-year campaign to mobilize Americans to end the national dropout crisis.
“America still faces a dropout crisis, but this report shows why there is reason to be hopeful,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance. “Certain communities have made big progress in a short time, and they can share their lessons with others. But, the major discovery in the report is that when administrators, teachers, community officials, state governments, parents and business leaders work together, schools can be transformed.”
Earlier this year, President Obama and Sec. Duncan called for 90 percent of U.S. students to graduate from high school and complete at least one year of post-secondary education or training by 2020. Nationwide, the U.S. graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008.
“States and communities that made breakthrough progress serve as a challenge to those that have not improved,” said Dr. Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center. “While 400,000 fewer students are attending dropout factory schools, 2.2 million students are still in these schools.”
Other findings of the report released today include:
Most of the decline in “dropout factory” schools – 216 of the 261 – occurred in the South.
In Texas, the number of dropout factory high schools dropped by 77. Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee all dropped by 20 or more schools.
Tennessee and Texas saw a decline in the number of dropout factories across all locales – cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas – indicating that improvement is possible in any type of community.
Twenty-two states had a decline of dropout factory high schools in urban areas, led by Texas, New York, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
Tennessee and New York led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15 and 10 percentage points, respectively.
Ten additional states, including Alabama, had gains larger than the national average – ranging from about four to seven percentage points.
More than half of all states – 29 in total – increased statewide graduation rates substantially from 2002 to 2008.
Just three states lost ground in the percentage of high school students graduating from 2002 to 2008 – Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
The graduation rate held fairly steady in the remaining 18 states.
The report highlights four case studies of success—Tennessee; Alabama; Richmond, Indiana; and New York City. Common elements of success include: strong leadership with clear graduation rate goals; multi-sector collaboration guided by data; commitment to innovation and continuous improvement; technical assistance for evidence-based solutions; and raising expectations, improving policies and increasing student supports.
Just as Secretary of State George C. Marshall launched a plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, this idea has been adopted to transform the lowest performing schools in our education system. The idea of a Civic Marshall Plan was developed earlier this year as a result of a roundtable hosted by the Pearson Foundation. To that end, the Alliance, Civic Enterprises, Everyone Graduates Center and a council of leading organizations today announced significant commitments to develop and advance the Civic Marshall Plan to build a Grad Nation. In March 2011, a progress report to the nation will be issued.
“Ending the dropout crisis is within reach,” said John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises. “We now know why students drop out and what can keep them on track. With better data and accountability across schools and states, the spread of early warning systems, unprecedented federal support to transform dropout factories, and nonprofits mobilizing more boots on the ground to support students, we can keep more young people on the path to success.”
Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD) of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Researchers used two indicators to determine students’ progress through high school – the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) and promoting power, both calculated from grade-level enrollment numbers and, in the case of AFGR, district-level data on the number of diplomas awarded.
About the Funders
Target, the report’s lead sponsor, has a long-standing commitment to education which focuses on helping kids learn and schools teach, ultimately paving a path to graduation. Since 1962, Target has committed 5% of its income to support communities and in September 2010, Target pledged an additional $500 million by the end of 2015 to support education, for a total of more than $1 billion. A significant portion of this giving will fund programs and partnerships that help more U.S. children reach one of the most critical milestones on the path to graduation—reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
AT&T is committed to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. Launched in April 2008, AT&T Aspire, a $100 million program, is one of the largest-ever corporate commitments specifically focused on confronting the high school dropout crisis to help ensure our students graduate prepared for the future challenges of continuing education and the workforce.
The Pearson Foundation aims to make a difference and find workable solutions to the educational disadvantages facing millions of young people and adults across the globe by promoting literacy, education leadership, youth engagement and teaching quality.
America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s largest partnership organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth by raising awareness, supporting communities, and engaging in nonpartisan advocacy. Through our Grad Nation campaign, we harness the collective power of our partner network to mobilize Americans to end the high school dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and the 21st century workforce. Building on the legacy of our Founding Chairman General Colin Powell, the Alliance believes the success of our young people is grounded in the Five Promises – caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others. For more information about America’s Promise Alliance, visit www.americaspromise.org.
Civic Enterprises is a public policy development firm created to inform issues of importance to the nation. Civic Enterprises issued the report, The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts and other reports on the dropout challenge and was a co-leader of the National Summit on America’s Silent Epidemic, prompting further action at the national, state and local levels. For more information about Civic Enterprises, visit www.civicenterprises.net.
The Everyone Graduates Center, part of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, seeks to identify the barriers to high school graduation, develop strategic solutions to overcoming these barriers and build local capacity to implement and sustain the solutions so that all students graduate prepared for adult success.