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The ultimate economic stimulus package
is a diploma

"That is why I believe that the ultimate economic stimulus package is a diploma." Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education

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Nationwide, 7,000 students drop out every day and only about 70 percent of students graduate from high school with a regular high school diploma.

The U.S. high school dropout crisis poses one of the greatest threats to the nation’s economic growth and competitiveness and must be addressed, witnesses told the House Education and Labor Committee today.

Cutting the dropout rate in half would yield $45 billion annually in new federal tax revenues or cost savings, according to a recent report by Columbia University’s Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 90 percent of new high-growth, high-wage jobs will require some level of postsecondary education.

What Successful Education Looks Like...

Scott Gordon, the CEO of Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia, where 47 percent of the city’s public school first graders graduate from high school, contributed strategies that help his school turn around high dropout rates and low performance. He urged teachers to take more responsibility for the outcomes of their students, and urged administrators and state officials to reward teachers accordingly.

The average scores for Mastery students increased 35 points per grade in every subject and violence decreased by 85 percent. The schools’ turnover rates dropped a third.

"Currently this Congress is grappling with massive economic problems. But the enormous cost of bailing out the banks, financial institutions, the auto industry, and AIG is still less than the economic cost of just five years of dropouts in the United States," said Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education and the former Governor of West Virginia. "That is why I believe that the ultimate economic stimulus package is a diploma."

"The structure of the turnarounds required that Mastery continue operating as a neighborhood schools and enroll all of the students currently attending. So, in many ways these turnaround schools are perfect controlled experiments on school reform," said Gordon. "The same students, the same neighborhood, the same building – the only variable that changed was the adults."

Two thousand high schools in the U.S. produce more than half of all dropouts and a recent study suggests that in the 50 largest cities, only 53 percent of students graduate on time. Research shows that poor and minority children attend these so-called "dropout factories" – the 2,000 schools that produce more than 50 percent of our nation’s dropouts – at significantly higher rates.

"Simply put, the world has changed and there is no work for high school dropouts," said Dr. Robert Balfanz, Ph. D, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University. "To meet its graduation challenge, the nation must find a solution for its dropout factories."

Balfanz recent research findings show “it is often possible to identify as early as sixth grade up to half of the students who, absent effective interventions, will not graduate, and up to 80 percent by the ninth grade."

Witnesses also presented data which shows African-America, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native high school students have a far lower chance of graduating on time with a regular diploma.

"I echo the likes of Secretary Duncan and other education leaders when I say that education is the most important American civil rights issue of the 21st century," said Michael Wotorson, executive director of the Campaign for High School Equity. "The one consistency in our education system is in our high schools that fail to provide students of color and youth from low-income neighborhoods with the high-quality education they need to succeed in college and in the modern workplace."

Witnesses all agreed that a common core of rigorous internationally benchmarked standards will help ensure all students graduate career and college ready.

"We do not have to live in a country where three out of 10 students do not graduate on time, and where on-time graduation for minority students is a 50-50 proposition,” said Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. "We have solutions on the ground, and legislative proposals that will bring them to scale."

SOURCE: Committee on Education & Labor

Edited by Carolyn Allen
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