In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama encouraged states to pass laws to require students to stay in school until they graduate or they turn 18.
It’s estimated that high school graduates will earn $130,000 more over their lifetimes than dropouts, and that high school graduates will generate more than $200,000 in higher tax revenues and savings in government expenditures over their lifetime, the report said.
How to track high school graduation rates has been a contentious issue for years, with states using different methods to come up with a number. Balfanz cited this as a reason why the report does not include the names of the dropout factories. He said they will be included in a future report once all states are consistently reporting data.
States are now required to use the same method to compute graduation rates based on a Bush administration rule issued in 2008.
Nevada stood out for its low graduation rate of 56 percent, a decline of more than 15 percentage points from 2002 to 2009, the largest of any state, the report said. During Nevada’s boom years, students dropped out to earn hefty paychecks parking cars, pouring concrete, or serving drinks along the Las Vegas Strip.
“Today, many of Las Vegas’ dropouts are out of work and unable to jumpstart the economy because they lack the required credentials,” the report said.
But Balfanz said there are some signs that the state is “organizing itself against its big challenge.”
The Clark County School District of Las Vegas, for example, has developed a partnership with Vegas PBS for an online program designed to help students earn missing credits needed to graduate. It also started the “Reclaim Your Future” program, which sent school employees and community volunteers door to door to persuade dropouts to return to school.
State education officials in New Mexico and Arizona point to their own graduation statistics, which show rates increasing gradually for three consecutive years.
“When we talk about the economy, there’s a three-prong stool—what are your taxes like, are you business-friendly, and the third piece is whether you have an education system that is creating a workforce prepared and ready,” New Mexico’s Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said. “And the answer for New Mexico has been ‘No,’ but it’s an absolute commitment of ours to make that answer ‘Yes.’ We’re on our way.”
Many of the strategies encouraged by the authors have been adopted in Washington County, Md. The district has a 92-percent graduation rate, up 15 percentage points from 2000. It’s made progress in recent years even as the county’s unemployment rate lingered above the national average and more students needed homelessness services.
The district offers online learning classes for credit recovery, evening classes, and a family center where pregnant teens and student parents can attend class. Student attendance and performance data are carefully tracked to identify early any students at risk. Intervention specialists develop relationships with these students, doing everything from visiting their homes to helping them connect with community mental health services.