HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Aggressive efforts to prevent students from dropping out contributed to a modest 3.5 percentage point increase nationally in the high school graduation rate from 2001 to 2009, according to research to be presented today at the Grad Nation summit in Washington. The event was organized by the children's advocacy group America's Promise Alliance founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The graduation rate was 75 percent in 2009, meaning 1 in 4 students fails to get a diploma in four years, researchers found. That's well below the organization's goal of 90 percent by 2020.
Researchers found that the number of "dropout factories," schools that fail to graduate more than 60 percent of students on time, had dropped by more than 450 between 2002 and 2010, but that 1,550 remain.
The increase in graduation rates was primarily because of growth in 12 states, with New York and Tennessee showing double digit gains since 2002, according to the research. At the other end, 10 states had declines: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island and Utah.
"This year's report proves struggling schools are not destined to fail," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "The reality is that even one dropout factory is too many."
The authors said there are proven strategies to tackle the problem, such as getting all students to read at grade level, raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 and developing "early warning" systems to help identify students that might be at risk of later dropping out.
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 tax revenues and savings in government expenditures over their lifetime, the report said.