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ADDRESSING AMERICA’S DROPOUT CHALLENGE: New Report Calls for Federal Role in Raising Graduation Rates

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“With U.S. global competitiveness and the economic self-sufficiency of our citizens at stake, the dropout problem no longer can be ignored.”

A new report from the Center for American Progress and Jobs for the Future calls for an investment of $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually to raise high school graduation rates and close the graduation gap within the next five years. The report, Addressing America’s Dropout Challenge: State Efforts to Boost Graduation Rates Require Federal Support, argues that increased federal support can provide a boost to state and local efforts to end the dropout problem.

“With U.S. global competitiveness and the economic self-sufficiency of our citizens at stake, the dropout problem no longer can be ignored,” the report reads. “We need all 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.”

As part of that agenda, the report calls on Congress to pass what it calls the Graduation Promise Act of 2007. By doing so, it says that Congress could establish a federal commitment to partner with states, districts, and schools to raise graduation rates. In addition, the act would “seed and scale up” state and local efforts to keep high school-aged students in school and achieving at a high level, and it would put these proven strategies to use immediately in the nation’s worst-performing high schools.

Specifically, the act, which has not been introduced in Congress, contains three major initiatives and would:

  • Spend $300 million to $400 million per year to help states and districts develop systemic strategies to improve graduation rates without compromising academic standards
  • Devote $50 million to $150 million per year toward increasing the supply of proven school models and strategies for improving the graduation rate of students who are not on track to graduate
  • Use $700 million to $950 million toward identifying high schools with the worst dropout rates and use proven practices and models to improve the graduation rate in those schools

According to the report, this relatively modest federal investment could leverage significant change in state and local policies and practices but argues that Congress should act now rather than waiting to address these problems during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It points out that the United States cannot reach the goal outlined in NCLB of proficiency for all students by 2014 if one third of all students do not graduate from high school. It also notes that the reauthorization process is likely to be long and drawn out and that the nation “cannot afford to wait while losing such large numbers of young people from the education system.” The report adds that NCLB has proven to be a “weak instrument” for improving high schools. It notes that NCLB has created little real accountability for graduation rates at the state or district level and has offered no incentives for districts to hold on to low-performing students.

“Passing the Graduation Promise Act now would ensure that the kind of spur that federal action provided around academic achievement will now also be applied to the challenge of raising graduation rates,” it reads. “Every year we wait, 1.2 million more students will leave high school without a diploma. The cost is far too great to young people, their families and communities, the states, and the nation.”

The complete report is available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2006/11/pdf/hs_grad_report.pdf.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.