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PRIORITIZING THE NATION’S DROPOUT FACTORIES: Alliance Brief Calls For “Legislative Triage” To Address Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

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"Similarly, the nation must focus its attention on the lowest-performing schools with the largest number of ‘victims' in the national dropout crisis. The fact that these schools are so widespread and contribute so greatly to the national dropout crisis dictates making them an essential focus of any federal effort to improve the graduation rate."

With the nation in the midst of a dropout crisis that costs more than $335 billion in lost wages for each class of dropoutsPrioritizing the Nation’s Dropout Factories: The Need for Federal Policy that Targets the Lowest-Performing High Schools, a new brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education calls on federal policymakers to perform “legislative triage” by devoting attention to the lowest-performing high schools and immediately improving or replacing the most severely “injured” schools.

“When emergency medical personnel arrive at an accident scene, they immediately deliver treatment to the most severely injured,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Similarly, the nation must focus its attention on the lowest-performing schools with the largest number of ‘victims’ in the national dropout crisis. The fact that these schools are so widespread and contribute so greatly to the national dropout crisis dictates making them an essential focus of any federal effort to improve the graduation rate.”

According to data from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University that is cited in the brief, these low-performing high schools are pervasive and exist in every state and over 80 percent of congressional districts. In these “dropout factories,” as they have been dubbed, graduation rates routinely fall below 60 percent. Over one half of these schools have student bodies larger than one thousand, but dropout factories are also medium- and small-sized schools; 20 percent of dropout factories are schools with less than four hundred students. And contrary to a common misconception, not all dropout factories are located in urban areas; half of the nation’s dropout factories are located outside of city limits in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas.

However, dropout factories have one unifying characteristic-they disproportionally serve minority students, who are up to five times more likely to attend a dropout factory than white students. In fact, 70 percent of African American students and 60 percent of Hispanic students who dropped out from the Class of 2007 attended dropout factories.

In total, dropout factories represent slightly more than 10 percent of the nation’s high schools, yet they produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts. According to data from Johns Hopkins University and calculations by the Alliance, there are nearly two thousand dropout factories in the United States, which educate 15.7 percent of all high school students. In some states, however, more than one third of all students attend dropout factories, as indicated in the table below.

States with the Highest Percentages of Students Attending Dropout Factories

State

Number of Dropout Factories

Percentage of High Schools that are Dropout Factories

Percentage of High School Students who Attend Dropout Factories

Florida

182

38.5%

40.6%

Georgia

127

35.7%

33.8%

Nevada

32

39.5%

51.5%

New Mexico

36

31.6%

33.2%

South Carolina

95

48.7%

42.9%

If federal policymakers were to make strategic efforts to transform these schools, they could significantly reduce the nation’s dropout rate, the brief argues. It calls on federal lawmakers to take every available opportunity to address this issue and specifically cites three upcoming opportunities to address this national problem:

1) The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Federal policymakers should distribute stimulus funds in a way that would enable and support states’ and districts’ efforts to address schools with abysmally low graduation rates.
2) The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): Federal policymakers should make reauthorizing ESEA a priority and ensure that it targets needed resources and attention toward the improvement of dropout factories in a way that the current version does not.
3) The Budget and Appropriations Process: Federal policymakers should ensure a steady and significant stream of federal funding targeted toward improving these schools.

The complete brief, which includes a state-by-state breakdown of dropout factories and the percentage of high schools students who attend them, is available at https://all4ed.org/files/PrioritizingDropoutFactories.pdf.

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