WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Center for American Progress and Jobs for the Future released a report today showing that although high school graduation rates are far lower than previously understood, federal action now can significantly close the graduation gap within the next five years.
Despite several decades of intensive efforts to improve educational outcomes, the U.S. graduation rate has not reached above 70 percent in decades, and some states appear to be losing ground. On-time graduation rates hover between only 50 percent and 55 percent for African Americans and Hispanic young people.
The economic and social consequences of not completing high school are steadily intensifying. Dropouts today are twice as likely to be unemployed, and for those who work, pay is low, advancement is limited, and health insurance is less available.
The dropout problem no longer can be ignored. The United States’ global competitiveness and the economic self-sufficiency of our citizens is at stake. We need all of our youth to succeed and advance. It is time for an aggressive national effort to pursue a new, dual agenda for high school reform—one that embraces high standards and high graduation rates.
Advances in both research and practice point to new, promising strategies. Educators in urban districts ranging from New York City to Portland, Oregon are designing research-based interventions for keeping students on track, and developing new options and pathways for getting dropouts back in school and working toward a degree.
These interventions and options include a more intensive focus on fundamental English and math skills in the early months of 9th grade, coupled with quick response to academic failure, and small, personalized schools where students who have dropped out can reengage with academic learning.
Researchers have also identified indicators that very reliably identify students who, absent a school-based intervention, are likely to drop out and not graduate. Failing a core academic course in 9th grade is one of a few highly predictive signals.
Congress can play a vital role in closing the high school graduation gap by passing the proposed Graduation Promise Act of 2007. This act would establish a federal commitment to partner with states, districts, and schools to raise graduation rates. It would seed and scale up effective strategies and school designs for keeping high school-aged students in school and achieving at a high level of academic performance. And it would put these proven strategies to use immediately in the nation’s worst-performing high schools.