While significant progress has been made because of these and other reforms at the national, state and local levels, we must increase our efforts fivefold to meet the national goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate for the class of 2020.
Our report does not stop with signs of progress. It issues a challenge and a “civic marshall plan” of action. We target the 1,746 remaining dropout factory high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools by creating concrete benchmarks for on-track reading, reducing chronic absenteeism, developing early warning systems that predict students at risk of dropping out, increasing school- and community-based supports, and fostering the school transformation that ensure more students achieve.
Our case studies of states and schools that are beating the odds show that by raising standards and strengthening curriculum, coupled with higher expectations and more supports for students and teachers, great progress can be made.
Recent developments demonstrate that accelerated progress is possible and that education reforms are central to success. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind law, graduation rates will be measured for the first time this year consistently across the country, and states and school districts will set goals and annual targets and be accountable for meeting them. Thanks to the current Congress and administration, the federal government is making historic investments in school transformation and targeting the schools that are dropping out the most students. The Serve America Act, adopted with strong bipartisan majorities in the Senate and House in 2009, is showing the power of national service to mobilize full-time boots on the ground to provide the academic, emotional and peer supports to keep students on track.
Thanks to Colin and Alma Powell and their America’s Promise Alliance, more than 100 dropout summits in all 50 states have awakened the nation to the individual, societal and economic costs of the dropout crisis.
As our nation continues to meet the high school dropout challenge, a bipartisan Congress can continue to lead the way with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, building on the very progress that has been made over the past decade. Every student deserves a chance to fulfill their dreams, and thanks to the efforts of so many leaders at the federal, state and community levels, more students will graduate from high school, prepared for college and the increasing demands of a globally competitive workforce.
Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and John M. Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, are co-authors of “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic,” released with America’s Promise Alliance on Thursday in Washington, D.C.