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BUILDING A GRAD NATION: New Report Finds a 6.4 Percent Decrease in the Number of “Dropout Factories”

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“While it is important not to overstate the significance of gains in a single year, it is noteworthy that urban and rural schools that had proven to be the most challenging to reform are showing, at least in some locales, signs of forward movement and are possibly pointing to progress for the future.”

Between 2008 and 2009, the number of high schools graduating less than 60 percent of their students decreased by 112 schools, or 6.4 percent, according to updated data released on March 22. These high schools, which are sometimes referred to as “dropout factories,” totaled 1,634 in 2009, down from a high of 2,007 in 2002.

“Our data and case studies show that improvement is continuing and even accelerating in some areas,” said Robert Balfanz, coauthor of the updated report and codirector of the Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center. “This means that real progress is possible when school districts and community partners confront this crisis strategically and commit themselves to solving it.”

When breaking down data by regions and types of schools, the report reveals uneven progress. It finds that some states made significant improvements while others moved in the wrong direction.

According to the report, eighteen states saw a decline of three or more dropout factories between 2008 and 2009. California, Illinois, and South Carolina each saw the number of dropout factories in their states decline by twenty schools or more. On the other end of the spectrum, nine states experienced increases of three or more dropout factories, including Georgia and New York, each of which had ten new dropout factories between 2008 and 2009. Twenty-three states essentially stayed the same and saw no real change in their number of dropout factories.

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As shown in the chart to the right, the western part of the United States saw the greatest decrease in the number of dropout factories (-12.5 percent). In the Northeast, the dropout factories only declined by 2.8 percent.
When broken down by locale, rural schools experienced the largest decrease in dropout factories (-15.5 percent), compared to a decrease of 7.5 percent for towns, a 4.7 decrease for suburbs, and a 3.4 percent decrease for cities from 2008 to 2009.

“While it is important not to overstate the significance of gains in a single year, it is noteworthy that urban and rural schools that had proven to be the most challenging to reform are showing, at least in some locales, signs of forward movement and are possibly pointing to progress for the future,” the report notes.

In addition to the updated data, the report includes four successful case studies in Baltimore, Maryland; Canton, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Hillsborough County, Florida. The case studies provide a closer look into the work, programs, and resources that these communities are deploying and the success they are seeing as a result. The report notes that all four communities share the themes of strong leadership with clear graduation rate goals and a commitment to raising standards, as well as heavy reliance on data to inform decisionmaking.

This new data is part of an update to the November 2010 report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, authored by Civic Enterprises and John’s Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center. The update was released on March 22 at the Building a Grad Nation Summit, which was convened by America’s Promise Alliance, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center. At the summit, the complete findings from the report were discussed by Balfanz andJohn Bridgeland, another coauthor of the report and chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises. (Watch video from the event.)

The complete report is available at http://bit.ly/e0giuk.

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