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A plan to fix 'dropout factories'

More students will stay if school is harder, safer, and more relevant.

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Many communities across the nation have just received alarming news – one or more of their high schools fit the profile of a "dropout factory." That means two decades after the seminal report, "A Nation at Risk," jolted the nation to its educational crisis, America can claim almost no progress in raising high school graduation rates.

In many communities, the initial reaction to the latest report card has been denial and even anger. But now is the time for a focus on real solutions, not labels. In a human-capital century, Americans can no longer look the other way. Instead, they must realize why students leave school and use proven strategies to lower the dropout rate now.

In more than 1,700 schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia, less than two-thirds, and often fewer than half, of students graduate year after year, according to federal data recently analyzed by Johns Hopkins University. Half of all dropouts and two-thirds of minority-student dropouts are concentrated in 12 percent of America's high schools. Even heroic teachers and resilient students are finding themselves outmatched by the challenges they face in under-supported schools in high-poverty urban neighborhoods and rural counties.

The consequences of dropping out of school are catastrophic. Dropouts are more likely than their graduating peers to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents with children who drop out. Dropping out is not just a personal or economic issue; it also undermines the fabric of society. High school dropouts are almost completely missing from the civic lives of their communities. US taxpayers would save $45 billion a year if the number of high school dropouts were cut in half by increased tax revenues and reduced social costs.

A powerful force aims to engineer this massive savings and solve the dropout crisis by listening to and heeding their advice. A broad coalition of educators and business and community groups – including America's Promise Alliance, State Farm, the National Education Association, US Chamber of Commerce, and leading civil rights groups are supporting a 10-point plan and spearheading 100 dropout summits in all 50 states.

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