Federal Policies to Prevent Dropouts

There are strategies federal policy can support for high school dropout prevention and recovery.

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The high school graduation rate for the 2005-06 school year was 73.4 percent, a drop from the 2004-05 rate of 74.7 percent and the 2003-04 rate of 75 percent. These drops may be small, but they clearly highlight the lack of progress we are making in improving our unacceptably low graduation rates. Students who fail to graduate from high school earn less money and have fewer job opportunities. Moreover, in today’s knowledge-based economy, a high school degree is no longer sufficient to compete for high-skilled jobs.

Federal policy can support strategies for dropout prevention and recovery. It should invest in research and development to identify promising school models and strategies for recovering dropouts. The Graduation Promise Act, introduced in both the Senate and the House, and incorporated into early drafts reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides $2.4 billion for states to intervene in struggling high schools and develop research-based models to turn them around. This research could support the development of school reform models to support effective dropout recovery efforts.

Federal policy should also support states and districts in developing alternative pathways for students who have dropped out of school. One promising school reform model worthy of federal support is the early college high school—a blended institution that combines high school and college curricula and credits, allowing students to graduate in more than four years if they need the additional time, but simultaneously allowing them to earn college credits. These schools are motivating to students, since graduation means not only a high school diploma, but some progress toward a college degree, as well. A similar model that allows students who have dropped out to complete their high school diploma while they are earning a college degree at a community college has been included in the renewal of the Higher Education Act. The reauthorization of ESEA is an opportunity to broaden such efforts.

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