Addressing the Dropout Crisis with a Change in Policy and Thinking

Mar 09, 2012

By Drew Haverly

Millions of high school-age students who should be on spring break this month are instead entirely disconnected from school and work. They are youth today but, without intervention, tomorrow they will be among the least educated adult workers who are most likely to struggle to land and maintain employment.

Just today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data confirming what we already knew. Those with the least education have the highest rates of unemployment. The national unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent, but for workers without a high school diploma, it is 12.9 percent (4.6 percentage points higher than those with a high school diploma and 5.6 percent higher than those with some college). It is a problem that threatens the economic stability of families and communities.

One in four students fails to finish high school on time, and in the most at-risk communities, the number jumps to one in two. Boosting the high school graduation rate calls for unconventional thinking. Experts note that if the federal government and states move away from measuring high school graduation rates based on traditional four-year models, they could incentivize districts to develop dropout prevention and recovery strategies to ensure more youth earn a high school diploma.

Making Every Diploma Count, a brief recently re-released by the American Youth Policy Forum, Gateway to College National Network and the National Youth Employment Coalition, suggests the nation can increase the number of students earning a high school diploma or its equivalent if states and districts begin calculating extended-year graduation rates. This expanded rate captures what four-year graduation rates don't: the number of students who are able to graduate despite taking an extra year or two to do so. According to the brief, schools and districts that serve students who are over-aged and under-credited as well as those who may have dropped out  are often categorized as "in need of improvement". This  discourages states and districts from developing strategies or expanding programs to help these students graduate since the standard accountability measures of success is the percent of students who earn their diplomas four years after starting ninth grade.

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