Why Dropout Nation?

Ninety percent of America’s high school students graduate. Or so education officials in Indiana and the rest of the nation touted in graduation rates submitted to the public and the…

DropoutsNinety percent of America’s high school students graduate. Or so education officials in Indiana and the rest of the nation touted in graduation rates submitted to the public and the federal government.

Those statistics, however, weren’t even close to reality. They, instead, hid a dropout crisis draining the nation’economy and more importantly, condemning generations to the underclass.

One out of every four high school students in Indiana drop out by their senior year; 345,000 young Hoosier likely dropped out between 1986 and 2006. IPS, located in that state’s largest city, is home to some of the nation’s worst ‘dropout factories’ with four out of every ten students dropping out; four of out of every five young Black and White males drop out by senior year, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, the worst dropout rate for males in both races in the nation.

One out of every three students in attending high schools in Texas and North Carolina will eventually drop out. Three out of every ten California high school students are dropping out of school. One of every two students in the Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, never finish school, according to Education Week; this is contrary to the district’s reported dropout rate of 25 percent

One out of every four American high school freshmen — 849,000 young Americans — eventually drops out. They are condemned to poverty and welfare, unable to succeed in a high-tech economy in which even auto mechanics and welders are also knowledge workers. Many of them, especially Black men, will fill America’s prisons and jails as they turn to crime in order to survive. Their children children never learn the middle class skills needed to succeed.

This dropout crisis is at the root of the urban decay in so many of America’s cities and rural areas. It’s a brain drain that taxes the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy. Yet for years, officially-reported numbers didn’t reflect the reality and in many cases, still doesn’t. This lack of honest accounting, both on graduation rates and other educational statistics, has, until recently, encouraged inaction on stemming dropouts.

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, which makes graduation rates as important as test scores in measuring middle and high school performance, didn’t stopped states from misrepresenting those numbers. But the law is spurring a new generation of education reformers, both conservative and left-leaning, to finally hold states and schools accountable, forcing them to deal with the underlying factors behind both the faulty numbers and the dropout crisis itself.

Dropout Nation, which originates from the series of editorials I wrote and co-authored for the Indianapolis Star since 2005, will focus on this crisis, how the nation got here and why fixing it remains a challenge. This includes features on new research and shedding light on the flaws in the arguments of those who contend that a dropout crisis isn’t so.

More importantly, it will detail the human toll of this crisis and how a group of reformers — from researchers such as Robert Balfanz and Jay Greene, to grass-roots activists such as Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project — are forcing school officials to finally admit that their traditional methods of educating students is a failure.

Most of all, it is about the lives who are struggling to live, make a living, even go back to school. They are the every reason why solving the dropout crisis is the most important task we must take up this century. Education equals better jobs, healthier living and ultimately, a better life.

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