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December 3, 2010

State Legislative Action Helps Improve High School Graduation Rates

Tennessee and Alabama are leading the way.

The education recommendations, policy guidelines and legislation that state legislatures have put in place over the past decade are playing a vital role in decreasing the number of students who drop out of high school.

A new report shows some of the first positive signs that America is making progress in reducing a nationwide crisis in the number of students who drop out of high school. The report--released by the America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University's Everyone Graduates Center--highlights successful case studies in Tennessee and Alabama, acknowledging the role of state legislators in creating policy environments conducive to gains in high school graduation rates: strong leadership with clear gradation rate goals; multi-sector collaboration guided by data; commitment to innovation and continuous improvement; technical assistance for evidence-based solutions; and high expectations, better policies and more support for students.

The report calls for a Civic Marshall Plan to Build a Grad Nation. The National Conference of State Legislatures has joined the Civic Marshall Plan leadership team to further develop this plan and to bring leadership and expertise to bear on boosting student academic achievement and high school graduation rates. This is the first time that such a coalition has developed a common plan and mobilized their institutions to address the high school dropout crisis.

State legislatures across the country are focusing on key policy elements to improve high school graduation rates, including creating and sustaining a sense of urgency to improve high school graduation rates; insisting on high expectations and a rigorous curriculum for all students; providing several options for high school graduation; helping students plan through high school and beyond; identifying and supporting struggling students; developing dropout recovery programs to re-engage out-of-school youth; building resources to transform or replace low graduation-rate high schools; and holding schools and districts accountable for improving graduation rates.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has been working with state legislators since 2004 on a number of key policy elements that are beginning to improve state high school graduation rates.  For the past 18 months, lawmakers from around the country participated in the NCSL Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery.  With the task force due to release recommendations by the end of the year, this new report will provide great examples of states that have made these key policy changes and are now seeing improved graduation rates.


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.