High School Dropout Rate Crisis

If anything can be defined as a crisis, the current high school dropout rate statistics just might qualify. America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Colin Powell, released a report entitled Cities in Crisis, A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation [PDF, 1.8 MB]. Overall, only seven in 10 high school student go on to graduate, even less go on to attend higher education.

The report provides data and does a good job of breaking down the differences between urban, town, rural and suburban dropout rates; it does not suggest causes or propose solutions. But how do school districts that have the highest dropout rates – as high as 75 percent in one city – compare to those with the lowest? How is the academic structure different? Does the city have a true school choice with a voucher program? Shouldn’t we review the political approach – liberal versus conservative – of these school districts?

Since there is a graduation rate difference between urban and suburban schools, the report concentrates on how cities are in crisis. The graduation rate difference is significant, with only 60 percent graduating from urban schools and 75 percent graduating from suburban schools. On page 8 of the report, there are some sobering statistics concerning the 50 largest U.S. cities – 18 of those cities have a dropout rate more than 50 percent.

The report concludes…

When they are not being labeled “obsolete,” America’s high schools have often been described as existing in a state of crisis. As this report has demonstrated, that observation is particularly apt for the school systems serving the nation’s very largest cities. A significant share of recent public debate in education-policy circles has revolved around the challenges we face as a nation ensuring that all students graduate from high school, diploma in-hand and well-equipped to face the world and excel in their adult lives. This is an aspiration that would apply whether an individual student’s path from high school leads to further education, occupational training, or immediately into the world of work

If three out of every 10 students in the nation failing to graduate is reason for concern, then the fact that just half of those educated in America’s largest cities are finishing high school truly raises cause for alarm. And the much higher rates of high school completion among their suburban counterparts – who may literally live and attend school right around the corner – place in a particularly harsh and unflattering light the deep undercurrents of inequity that plague American public education.

It is often remarked that knowledge is power. The good news is that a movement is afoot to better arm educators, policymakers, and the public with the information they need to more accurately assess the nature and severity of the graduation crisis in their communities and around the country. Innovative efforts to turn around low-performing high schools are also underway. The bad news, however, is that the challenges we face may be more grave than many had suspected or that some are still willing to acknowledge. And when it comes to providing every student with a high-quality education, we have not come as far or moved as fast as most of us would like

In forging a way ahead, it will be essential that we not lose sight of the disparities highlighted in this report, which portray two very different worlds that exist within the nation’s public education system. As efforts to understand and combat the graduation crisis advance, this movement must proceed hand-in-hand with a fundamental commitment to creating a public education system in which earning a high school diploma is the norm for all students in every community, and where dropping out is a rare exception.

I’ve forwarded readers to a previous study that show that neither class size, dollars spent, school enrollment or the number of computers per student can be directly correlated to results. Student test scores and success can be closely tied to the median income of the community.

This fact is important to understand and is a bedrock for conservative principals; spending extra dollars on education does little to improve student performance.

So what is the answer?

Imperfect Parent has a bit more and a discussion.