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Alliance For Excellent Education Calls For “Legislative Triage” To Address Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

Press Release:

Alliance For Excellent Education Calls For “Legislative Triage” To Address Nation’s Lowest-Performing High Schools

Washington, DC – With the nation in the midst of a dropout crisis that costs more than $335 billion in lost wages for each class of dropouts, 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 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 small- and medium-sized schools. And contrary to a common misconception, not all dropout factories are located in urban areas—half of dropout factories are located outside of city limits in suburbs, small towns, or rural areas.

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. Federal policymakers making strategic efforts to transform these schools, the brief argues, could significantly reduce the nation’s dropout rate.

The brief, Prioritizing the Nation’s Dropout Factories: The Need for Federal Policy That Targets the Lowest-Performing High Schools, calls on federal lawmakers to take every available opportunity to address this issue. It 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 towards the improvement of dropout factories in a way that the current version does not; and
3) The Budget and Appropriations Process: Federal policymakers should ensure a steady and significant stream of federal funding that is targeted towards improving these schools.

The complete brief, which includes a state-by-state breakdown of dropout factories and the percent of high schools students who attend them, is available here.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

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