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NATIONAL SUMMIT ON AMERICA’S SILENT EPIDEMIC: TIME Magazine, MTV, Gates Foundation, and Others Join Forces to Spotlight High Dropout Rates

On May 9, Civic Enterprises, the National Governors Association, TIME magazine, and MTV cosponsored the National Summit on America’s Silent Epidemic, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Case Foundation, and the MCJ Foundation. The event was a call to action designed to gather, motivate, and further equip advocates “to act more effectively to keep students in school and on track for success.”

The event, held in Washington, DC, was moderated by CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno and featured a full day of speakers, starting with Tim Russert, morning editor and moderator of Meet the Press. Russert delivered a moving opening speech that highlighted his own education path and talked about how his hometown schools are currently performing.

Youths’ voices were a prominent feature of the day. One roundtable, hosted by Sway Calloway, a correspondent for MTV News, featuredJynell Harrison, winner of MTV’s “Be the Voice” competition. Harrison, along with four other young adults (some of whom were on track to graduate, whereas others had already dropped out), described how out-of-school problems can distract young people from school. They talked about how “easy [it is] for a student to stray,” the value of a positive community, and the importance of knowing that adults care about students as individuals and that they are willing to help them.

Another portion of the summit that featured youth was MTV’s The Dropout Chronicles, a video that profiles three high school students, all on the brink of dropping out, and the challenges they face in finishing high school. (Video clips from The Dropout Chronicles are available at In contrast, a video about the Gates Foundation’s early college high school efforts featured students whose school structure helped them see the relevance and possibilities associated with high school and college learning as well as to make college seem less daunting to them.

E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, followed up by leading a panel that discussed the latest research on the dropout crisis and promising solutions to it. Chris Swanson, director of the EPE Research Center, announced the launch of a graduation mapping tool that can provide information at the district level about high school performance. Russell Rumberger, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Robert Balfanz a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, had similar messages. They emphasized that the dropout crisis is a solvable problem, that the research exists to guide change, and that the only thing missing is the political will to act. Balfanz also discussed a new resource guide titled What You Can Do in Your Community, which he described as a “roadmap or practical advice” on how interested individuals could start addressing the dropout crisis (The guide is available at

First Lady Laura Bush also spoke at the summit and noted the importance of literacy as a strong academic foundation for every other subject. She pointed out that the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act offered an excellent opportunity to help older students who struggle to read at grade level, particularly through an expansion of the Striving Readers program.

A panel on “Dropout Communities of Hope” highlighted the work being done in Shelbyville, IN, Atlanta, and New York to turn the dropout problem around. As part of that panel, Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, described recent progress in New York City and said that his goal was to see graduation rates rise 3 percent each year as well as to see other indicators improve.

David Broder, national political correspondent for the Washington Post, moderated a panel discussion among three governors, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (R)North Carolina Governor Michael Easley (D), and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D), about dropout prevention efforts. The governors described programs underway in their states that were designed to increase graduation rates while also ensuring that students were engaged in rigorous course work that would prepare them for college, work, and life. They also focused the discussion on the economic imperative for these changes, noting that the United States’ competitive edge has been based on creativity and innovation.

To provide the federal perspective, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) spoke about the federal role in high school reform. Secretary Spellings noted Senator Bingaman’s leadership in making high schools a federal priority through his work on the America Competes Act and through his introduction (with Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)) of the Graduation Promise Act, which she described as “a great step.” In his remarks, Senator Bingaman noted that 15 percent of the high schools produce nearly half of the nation’s dropouts. He said that the Graduation Promise Act would provide the resources needed to turn these schools around and improve student performance.

The event closed with remarks by former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent and former governor of Colorado Roy Romer, who is currently the Strong American Schools’ “ED in ’08” Campaign Chairman. Romer encouraged participants to join the ED in ’08 campaign to make sure that education is a priority in our national conversation and in the next presidential election.

Visit for more information on the summit.


Melinda Gates Assesses Progress of Chicago High School Reform Efforts


In a recent TIME magazine article, Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, observed firsthand the daunting challenges and budding promise facing the urban high school reform efforts that the Gates Foundation currently funds. Accompanied byChicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, Gates visited students at three high schools on Chicago’s South Side. She complimented the city’s overall progress in combining a rigorous curriculum with coaching for teachers and additional student supports, noting that “when you have all those pieces in place, you have a chance to transform a school.”

The full TIME article, “On a Listening Tour with Melinda Gates,” is available at:,8599,1618468,00.html.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.