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ACHIEVING GRADUATION FOR ALL: A New Report Offers Governors a Plan of Action to Tackle the High School Dropout Crisis

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"Governors have led the effort to shine a light on the growing high school dropout problem that has serious implications for youth, the country's workforce and our economy."

A new report from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) calls on the nation’s governors to take action to address the high school dropout crisis. Achieving Graduation for All: A Governor’s Guide to Dropout Prevention and Recovery prescribes four specific strategies for governors to confront the dropout challenge and enact effective solutions to raise the graduation rate.

“Governors have led the effort to shine a light on the growing high school dropout problem that has serious implications for youth, the country’s workforce and our economy,” said Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D). “Even though we are in the worst fiscal environment in decades, now is the time to move from illuminating the problem to solving it by enacting policies that work toward 100 percent high school graduation.”

The long-term economic benefits of reducing the dropout rate, which are critical in today’s current financial environment, are emphasized throughout the report. In addition, the NGA Center recommends that governors institute a comprehensive approach with multiple policy changes in order to be successful in their efforts. Governors must also devise a plan that takes into account the specific nature and scope of the dropout problem within their own unique state borders.

The first recommendation for governors is to promote a clear message of “high school graduation for all” and to stand behind that message by taking key steps such as counting graduation rates heavily in state accountability systems, rather than only giving weight to student test scores. According to the report, fifteen states currently factor four-year cohort graduation rates into their state accountability systems and an additional twenty-five plan to follow suit in the near future. To further tout the importance of high school graduation, governors should assign responsibility for dropout prevention and recovery programs at the state and local levels.

In some states, part of the dropout problem stems from outdated laws that allow students to drop out of school before they turn a certain age. For example, in twenty-nine states, students under age eighteen can drop out of school and in twenty-one of those states students can drop out as early as age sixteen. These passé laws send the unintended message to students that not everyone needs a high school diploma to survive in today’s workforce, the report says. To address this situation, governors should raise the maximum compulsory school attendance to age eighteen and increase the maximum allowable age for public education to age twenty-one or above in order to provide older youth with an expanded timeline to earn a traditional high school diploma.

Achieving Graduation for All also advises governors to target the most at-risk students by developing and investing in early-warning data systems in schools. These systems make use of basic student academic and attendance data to flag students at high risk of dropping out. (To learn more about early-warning systems, read the Alliance for Excellent Education’s report Using Early-Warning Data to Improve Graduation Rates: Closing Cracks in the Education System.) Once at-risk students have been identified, they should be connected to additional resources such as graduation coaches, community schools, and personalized learning plans. The report’s authors stress the importance of using data to invest in promising strategies and dropout prevention techniques.

Because state funding streams are not currently set up to encourage school districts to reengage dropouts, most schools have little incentive to use valuable resources to track down students who have left school, the report finds. To combat this situation, the report challenges governors to create school incentives for dropout recovery programs. In particular, it calls for school reentry options for juvenile offenders because they endure many difficulties in trying to reenter the school system, or, if they do reenroll, in catching up academically with their peers.

Lastly, the report recommends that governors provide rigorous, relevant options for students to earn a high school diploma. “Blaming a child for not succeeding in school, when the school is not succeeding is unacceptable,” the report argues. To address this problem, the NGA Center calls for turning around low-performing schools and investing in new and effective learning programs. The report points out that student accreditation in high school should be changed to be based on actual learning and knowledge acquired, rather than “seat time,” which is the number of hours students spend in the classroom.

The complete report is available at http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0910ACHIEVINGGRADUATION.PDF.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.