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GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION: New Report Finds Declining High School Graduation Rates in Southern States

"Making progress toward all young adults having a high school diploma . . . is critical-not just for the well-being of individuals, but for the well-being of [the] state," said Mark Musick

“Few people would have predicted that graduation rates would decline, particularly after the emphasis in the last decade on reading in the early grades and on state accountability systems,” reads a new report from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). However, according to the report, the percentages of high school students who receive a regular high school diploma in four years have been declining in most SREB states in recent years. In fact, between 1992 and 2002, only three SREB states (Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw an increase in their graduation rates, while the thirteen remaining states experienced an average drop of more than 5 percent. (Southern Regional Education Board member states include Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia).

Given these results, the report, Getting Serious About High School Graduation, calls on policymakers, education leaders, business leaders, parents, and students to treat high school graduation as a “top priority.” “Making progress toward all young adults having a high school diploma . . . is critical-not just for the well-being of individuals, but for the well-being of [the] state,” said Mark Musick, president of the Southern Regional Education Board. “High school dropouts do not have the knowledge and skills required to be successful in today’s workforce, and many of them show up in welfare budgets, public health costs, and prison rolls.”

Using data from the Urban Institute, the report noted that SREB states differ from the national norm when it comes to the graduation gap between white students and African-American and Hispanic students. Nationwide, the graduation gap between white students and their African-American peers is 25 percent; for Hispanic students, the graduation gap is 22 percent. However, as shown in the chart below, the graduation gap between white students and African-American and Hispanic students in SREB states is much narrower. The smaller gap is due to the fact that SREB states have higher graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students when compared to the national average, but graduate white students at a rate six percentage points below the national average.


The report called on states to set ambitious high school graduation targets for all groups of students and make them a part of state accountability systems. To ensure that assessment systems do not contribute to low graduation rates, states should also provide sufficient help to students who need it to reach higher standards. Also, noting that more students fail classes in the ninth grade than in any other year, the report recommended that states focus on the transition to high school. For example, in Florida, all middle school students with low scores on state tests have a personalized plan to help them succeed academically.

While ninth-grade transition programs can help, the report stressed that the dropout problem extends beyond the ninth grade. “In SREB states, roughly 11 percent of students entering their senior year in 2003 did not graduate the following spring or summer,” it reads. The report suggested that states develop opportunities such as charter or technical high schools for students who are two grade levels behind their peer group. States should also “provide more flexibility-without lowering standards-for those students who struggle day to day to remain in high school.” Such options could include Internet-based instruction that would allow students to take and retake courses needed for graduation outside of school hours or more remedial support for students as they take courses required for graduation.

The report also called on policymakers and education leaders to work with business leaders and corporate foundations in a joint effort to reform high schools-especially those with low graduation rates. “Business leaders are also getting involved in high school reform as a way to increase the number of qualified workers available and to improve their preparation,” the report reads. “They understand that the current education system is not graduating an adequate percentage of students and that many of those who do graduate are not ready for postsecondary education and workforce training.”

The complete report is available at


Better-Trained Workforce Leads Toyota to Choose Canada over U.S. for New Factory 

Earlier this month, Toyota announced that it would build a new 1,300-worker factory in Ontario, Canada, rather than in the United States because Ontario workers are better trained. This decision was made even as several U.S. states were offering hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to help build the $800 million factory. Ultimately, the subsidies were not enough to offset the extra costs Toyota thought it would incur training American workers.

“The level of the workforce in general is so high [in Canada] that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States,” said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

According to an article in the Canadian Press, “industry experts say Ontarians are easier and cheaper to train-helping make it more cost-efficient to train workers” when a new plant opens. The article also said that Nissan and Honda had “encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained-and often illiterate-workforce.” In Alabama, for example, trainers had to use “pictorials” to teach some workers how to use high-tech equipment.

“Toyota to build 100,000 vehicles per year in Woodstock, Ont., starting 2008” is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.