- The % of students that failed to graduate dropped 27% from 1M to 750k
- The HS graduation rate rose from 74.7 % to 80.9 %,
- the #of HS with >50% dropout dropped from 1,800 to 1,000
By Lauren Camera Nov. 10, 2015, at 7:08 p.m. + More
Some good news for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as he begins packing ahead of his departure next month: The number of high school dropouts plummeted over the last four years.
In 2008, when President Barack Obama first took office, more than 1 million students didn't finish high school. In 2012, just under 750,000 failed to graduate, representing a 27 percent reduction.
The findings are included in a report coauthored by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University – education advocacy organizations that focus on underserved communities. The groups emphasized that the drop in the number of high school dropouts is not an accident. It is largely a result, they argued, of a set of regulations enacted in 2008 by former President George W. Bush that required all states to use the same formula for calculating dropout rates and required school districts to intervene in schools with consistently low graduations rates that mainly served low-income and minority students.
The Obama administration doubled down on that policy, they noted, requiring in 2011 that all districts identify their poorest-performing 5 percent of schools and adopt an aggressive intervention model to turn them around.
"These common-sense policy changes had a near immediate effect," the groups wrote.
What's more, from 2008 to 2012, the latest year for which comparable data is available, the national high school graduation rate rose from 74.7 percent to 80.9 percent, and there's new data to suggest that trend will occur again this year.
"This is a remarkable achievement, particularly considering the lack of progress made in the years prior to the implementation of the federal graduation rate regulations," they wrote.
The report also documented a drop in the number of so-called dropout factories, chronically failing schools from which large percentages of students don't graduate.
According to the report, from 2008 to 2014, the number of these high schools plunged from more than 1,800 to roughly 1,000.
"The report sheds light on the progress we've made as a nation to ensuring all students, not just some, have access to world class education" Duncan said on a press call Tuesday.
He noted that since 2008, high school dropout rates for Hispanic students have been cut in half and that overall, a million more students of color are enrolled in college.
"That's tremendous progress, and this report underscores that progress," said the outgoing secretary, who announced his resignation last month.
But Duncan also said the report is an important example of why a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is currently being negotiated by Congress, must include stronger accountability measures and safeguards for historically disadvantaged students.
For example, the students attending low-graduation-rate high schools, the report also noted, are disproportionately students of color and students from low-income families. African-American students make up less than 16 percent of the K-12 student population, but in these high schools, they make up 40 percent, according to the report. And overall, students of color make up 90 percent or more of the student population in half of the dropout factories.
"We can't just have transparency and reporting," Duncan said of the current proposals in the House and Senate that would require states to report on achievement scores of all students, but allow states to craft their own accountability systems.
"We can't go backward," he said.
Duncan, along with a slew of civil rights advocates, has been pushing for a bill that would require states to intervene to correct big achievement gaps between minority and low-income students and their white and more affluent peers, and also mandate that states fix schools with especially low graduation rates and work to turn around schools that are in the bottom 5 percent in their states.
"The stakes today have never been higher to get the dropout rate down to zero," he said. "We as adults, educators and leaders have passively observed education failure with complacency. Turning around schools that have struggled for decades is the most important work in education."