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U.S. meeting its challenge on dropouts

U.S. meeting its challenge on dropouts

Columbia Daily Tribune | February 17, 2009

Good news is rare these days. Home foreclosures, a credit crunch and rising joblessness have sent ripples of fear through the U.S. economy. Youth unemployment is approaching levels seen during the Great Depression. The nation could use a ray of hope, and progress is being made on one issue that deepens unemployment and poverty — the high school dropout epidemic.

The landscape in our public schools is familiar. Each year, more than 1.2 million students do not graduate with their incoming freshman class. In many communities, dropping out is as likely as graduating, often triggering unemployment, poverty, incarceration and single parenthood.

Fortunately, the nation is responding in large cities as well as rural communities.

This week, we will release a report examining progress in raising graduation rates in all 50 states. Some states and communities are graduating more students in the thousands, even as graduation requirements mount. Eight states have seen graduation rates increase by 5 or more percentage points. The percent of minority students attending high schools in which nearly all students graduate has doubled, and 300,000 fewer students across America attend high schools in which as many students drop out as graduate.

Now is the time for coordinated action at all levels. America’s Promise Alliance is leading the charge with 105 “dropout summits” in all 50 states over the next few years. The alliance released a comprehensive guide on how communities can increase high school graduation rates by collecting accurate data, implementing school reform and community supports and sustaining those efforts over time.

Governors will continue to play a critical role as they build systems to track graduation rates, set ambitious graduation and college readiness goals, and raise compulsory school age laws with new supports for struggling students.

Congress should pass the Graduation Promise Act to improve or replace the 15 percent of high schools that produce more than half of all dropouts, as well as the Serve America, Success in the Middle and Keeping Pace acts. The federal government will save $45 billion per high school class in extra tax revenues and lower costs when the dropout rate is cut in half among 20-year-olds.

The perspectives of dropouts, too, give us hope — most see the value of a high school diploma, are confident they could have graduated with the right supports and long for a more engaging and challenging curriculum.

Our nation has finally woken up to its dropout challenge, and with youth unemployment soaring to new heights and an economy in deep recession, it is not a moment too soon.

Robert Balfanz, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, and John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, are authors of studies on high school dropouts. Write to them at: Civic Enterprises LLC, 1828 L St. NW, 11th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036; Web site:; e-mail:

**This article can be found at its original online publisher here.

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