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New bill focuses on U.S. graduation rates

Reports show that high school graduates have a positive impact on local and state economies.

New legislation introduced in Congress proposes to reduce the U.S. high school dropout rate in an effort to reach a national graduation rate of 90 percent. The bill also would require states to use a consistent method to report graduation data.

The Every Student Counts Act, introduced April 7 by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., notes that according to a 2008 Department of Labor report, by 2016 almost 90 percent of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs in the country will require at least some postsecondary education.

Track the bill’s progress in the U.S. House of Representatives here, and in the U.S. Senate here.

Roughly one out of every three students entering ninth grade each year will fail to graduate from high school four years later. Almost half of black and Hispanic students who enter ninth grade fail to graduate within four years.

Stakeholders say that “dropout factories”—schools with exceptionally high dropout rates—play a large part in the graduation epidemic. Roughly 10 percent of U.S. secondary schools produce about half of the nation’s dropouts. In fact, the number of seniors in such schools is consistently 60 percent or less than the number of freshmen who entered the school three years prior.

For more on graduation rates, see:

eSN Special Report: Keeping students on a path to graduation

High school graduation rate is increasing, report shows

A November 2010 report, “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic,” revealed that the graduation rate for U.S. high schools increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. The report also indicated a decline in dropout factories—there were 261 fewer dropout factories in 2008 than there were in 2002, which is roughly a 13 percent decrease.

Bob Wise, former West Virginia governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, said in a statement that the legislation “would help bring method to the madness that is high school graduation rate calculations. Under No Child Left Behind, states were allowed to choose their own graduation rate calculations and goals. The result was a patchwork of inconsistent graduation rates that were not comparable from state to state.”

Regulations introduced in 2008 required schools to use the same formula to report graduation rates, and wise said this latest legislation strengthens those efforts by improving the regulations and placing an emphasis on consistency.

“Graduation rates are not only an indicator of a school’s success; they are also a critical predictor of a community’s economic health. Nearly 1.3 million students did not graduate from high school in 2010, costing the nation over $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings,” Wise said.

Despite that increase, the bill’s sponsors maintain that change is still necessary to ensure that as many students as possible graduate from high school within four years.

The legislation would focus school improvement activities on all students, and would attempt to close achievement gaps by requiring that graduation rates be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, disability status, migrant status, English proficiency, and status as economically disadvantaged for accountability and reporting purposes.

It also would make graduation rates a significant factor in determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP would include aggressive, uniform growth requirements to ensure consistent graduation rate increases.

Schools, districts, and states would receive credit for eventually graduating students who take longer than four years to graduate, while maintaining the goal of graduating the majority of students in four years.

Technical assistance would be available to help schools and districts collect and streamline graduation data.

The Every Student Counts Act builds on the National Governors Association’s Graduation Rate Compact that was signed by all 50 of the nation’s governors in 2005.

Many reports have shown that high school dropouts can strain local economies. If the country was able to cut dropout rates for minority students in major cities in half, the nation would save $2.3 billion in an average year, create 17,450 jobs, and increase tax revenues by $249.7 million—all on the basis of one high school class.

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