Are Dropout Factories Closing?

Following years of a national policy push toward college- and career-readiness, are we seeing a decline in dropout factories?  According to Building a Grad Nation, a new report released today by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and America’s Promise Alliance, the answer to that question seems to be yes, with some caveats.

According to Grad Nation, more than a million students are still dropping out of high school each and every year.  And many of those million come from historically disadvantaged groups.  But there does seem to be some movement, including:

* The number of high school dropout factories fell 13 percent between 2002 and 2008
* More than half of states (29, actually) increased their graduation rates
* Tennessee has made the most impressive progress (boosting grad rates 15 percent), with New York offering an impressive 10 percent increase
* The decline in dropout factories is most prevalent in the South

That’s the good news.  What about the not-so-good?
* The graduation rate for Hispanic students is still only 64 percent, and for African-American students it is only 62 percent
* Nearly 80 percent of the dropout factory reductions are happening in suburbs and towns, meaning our urban centers remain magnets for dropout factories
* Our national high school grad rate is essentially still where it was 25 years ago when Nation at Risk was released
* Three states (Arizona, Nevada, and Utah) actually saw significant declines in their grad rates from 2002 to 2008

Yes, the collective authors are trying to put a positive spin on data that shows only modest improvements, at best.  But Grad Nation also offers some insights into what can be done, at least at a building level, to build on the successes of those who have improved and make change at those schools that have been persistently lagging.  It advocates for improved parental engagement (a must that we too often ignore).  It preaches the importance of both data collection and application.  It embraces scientifically based research and the need to do what works.  And it even tips its hat to the importance of making instruction relevant, particularly for students how may leave without the diploma otherwise.

Most realize that if we see an ESEA reauthorization in the coming months, it is going to focus, in large part, on college and career readiness.  As the GI Joe mantra goes, knowing is half the battle.  And Grad Nation goes a long ways in making sure we both know the current state of high school dropout affairs and know the possible paths of remedy available, even for those dreaded dropout factories.

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