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A Federal Role in Closing the Education Gap

Center event debates new report on decreasing dropout rates in American high schools.

Only 70 percent of American students are currently graduating from high school—a significantly smaller number than previously thought. The Center for American Progress and Jobs for the Future released a report in conjunction with an event last week to take an in-depth look at this problem and offer concrete solutions to close the graduation gap.

The event brought together five education experts for a panel discussion on The Center for American Progress and Jobs for the Future’s proposals for increasing the graduation rate.

The discussion focused on the report’s primary proposal that Congress pass a Graduation Promise Act to create a federal partnership with states, districts, and schools to keep high school students in school, help them achieve at high levels, and graduate from high school prepared for the 21st century.

Panelists agreed that there is now sufficient data available showing why graduation rates are low, and what can be done to improve them. “It’s a goal that’s within our reach,” Adria Steinberg, Associate Vice President of Jobs for the Future and report contributor stated.

Steinberg and Cassius Johnson, report co-author and Project Manager at Jobs for the Future, detailed the report’s main provisions:

  • Enabling the success of new state and district strategies to improve graduation rates by awarding competitive grants to states and districts that have already begun to improve their graduation rates.
  • Investing in education models that have a proven record of success. Grants would be awarded to school development organizations, youth development intermediaries, and districts that replicate successful education strategies.
  • Stemming the dropout flow from the worst-performing schools by identifying failing schools and providing their districts with the funds necessary for intervention.

The report emphasizes that the federal government must partner with states and districts to effectively target failing schools and bring about improvement. “We need federal involvement,” remarked Robert Balfanz, Research Scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools; “Concentrated, targeted efforts can make a difference.”

Carmel Martin, General Counsel and Chief Education Officer for Sen. Edward Kennedy, however, warned that any effort to address graduation rates must be part of a broader effort that comprehensively reforms America’s high schools, saying, “We want to address all of the educational issues quickly, and within the framework of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

View video of the event:

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