Fewer ‘dropout factories’ nationally, but problems remain

Those crusading against the dropout problem had reason to celebrate this week. A report released by the U.S. Department of Education, “Building a Grad Nation,” announced that the number of “dropout factories” in the country – or high schools that fail to graduate at least 60 percent of their students – continued to drop.

In 2002, there were 2,007 dropout factories. By 2008, that number was down to 1,746. And in 2009, an additional 112 schools were removed from the list, bringing the total down to 1,634.

Raising high school graduation rates has prompted sweeping reforms across the country in recent decades, including popular strategies like the promotion of small schools, the use of data to pinpoint student weaknesses and predict those most at risk of dropping out, and having private companies take over schools in “turnaround” efforts.

Credit recovery — in which students who fail classes are allowed to make them up, often quickly and online — is becoming a booming digital business and is a crucial part of the strategy to reduce dropout rates in places like Houston, Texas. And many cities are recognizing the importance of dropout recovery – or bringing former dropouts back into school systems – as a way to increase their graduation rates.

Some cities, like New York and Philadelphia, have seen improvements. Other places, like Portland, Ore., haven’t seen much payoff for their efforts.

The news isn’t all good. Even with the number of dropout factories declining, 2.1 million students still attend them nationwide. And many students not in dropout factories don’t make it through to a diploma either. Between 25 and 30 percent of students fail to graduate every year, experts say.

Some people also question the value of a high school diploma today, asking whether standards have been lowered in attempts to bump up grad rates. Credit recovery, for instance, has come under attack by many teachers and bloggers who say that, when abused, it requires students to do little or no work to earn credit for a semester’s worth of learning.

Fewer than half of U.S. students are considered “college ready” when they graduate high school, the report said. Over a third of all students must take at least one remedial course in college. At community colleges, the figure is 60 percent.

Learn more about the nation’s dropout problem in The Hechinger Report‘s GO DEEP section on dropouts.


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