Number Of Dropout Factories Falls, But Congressional Action Needed To Sustain Momentum

Our guest blogger is Theodora Chang, Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The U.S. (where a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds) is finally seeing some progress on its dropout crisis. The nationwide number of “dropout factory” high schools that graduate less than 60 percent of their students declined by 6.4 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to a new report released this week. The report found that all regions in the U.S. saw at least some decline in the number of dropout factories:

— West: Down 12.5 percent (313 schools in 2008; 274 in 2009)

— Midwest: Down 8.2 percent (269 schools in 2008; 247 in 2009)

— Southeast: Down 4.8 percent (912 schools in 2008; 868 in 2009)

— Northeast: Down 2.8 percent (252 schools in 2008; 245 in 2009)

The research also shows that one of the most effective tools for dropout prevention is an early-warning system to identify students most at risk of dropping out, paired with student support services.

Often referred to as wraparound services, these supports meet students’ nonacademic needs so they can focus on learning in the classroom. When used in conjunction with highly effective classroom instruction, wraparound services can be a powerful lever to close the achievement gap and level the playing field for low-income students. Wraparound services for students are currently included in the School Improvement Grants program and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. They are also the foundation of the Full-Service Community Schools program and the Promise Neighborhoods program.

The report specifically cites Promise Neighborhoods as one key way for the federal government to support a comprehensive approach to education, but the program needs to be authorized and funded by Congress in order to serve more students. Despite a continued budget stalemate in Congress, the U.S. Department of Education is wisely moving forward with the next phase of Promise Neighborhoods and released a list of proposed program priorities and changes this week.

Recent attempts by Congress to cut support services are especially misguided in light of what we now know about the relationship between poverty and academic achievement. If its members truly believe that our nation’s economic success depends on reducing the dropout rate, Congress must act to authorize Promise Neighborhoods and other federal programs that support wraparound services for students in the upcoming ESEA reauthorization.