A Path to Graduation for Every Child: State Legislative Roles and Responsibilities


Publication cover: A Path to Graduation for Every ChildINTRODUCTION

The United States has a dropout crisis. While estimates of graduation rates vary substantially among the federal government and non-government organizations, the severity of the problem is clear.

  • More than 25 percent of our students fail to complete high school in four years; some estimates are as high as 34 percent.
  • In 2008, the status dropout rate (young people who are not enrolled in high school and who do not have a high school credential) was 4.4 percent for Asians, 4.8 percent for whites, 9.9 percent for blacks, 14.6 percent for American Indians, and 18.3 percent for Hispanics.
  • In 2008, high school students from low-income families (the lowest 20 percent) were seven times more likely to drop out than students from high-income families.

The nation needs today’s school-age children to fill the jobs of tomorrow—jobs that require more skills and education than ever before. Our states and communities bear the brunt of students’ dropping out through costs to society, diminished quality of life, and—most important—the loss of productive, engaged citizens. State legislators cannot solve this problem alone, but it cannot be solved without state legislative action. We must take responsibility for improving the education experience of all children so they graduate ready for success in college, work and life.

This is not a problem that can be ignored until state economies improve. In fact, high school success is the key to improvement. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that, if the students who dropped out of the class of 2009 had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefited from nearly $335 billion in additional income during the course of their lifetimes. And that’s only for one year!  In fact, if the current pattern is allowed to continue, more than 12 million students will drop out of school during the next decade at a cost to the nation of more than $3 trillion.5 Improving high school graduation rates—and helping all kids navigate a path to success in college, careers and beyond—is urgent. The status quo is affecting our ability to serve our students, grow our economies, and succeed as a nation.

This problem will not be resolved unless state legislators take a leadership role. Because education is a state problem, it requires state solutions. This is not to say that we should just add new programs or allocate more money to dropout prevention and recovery; rather, we can coordinate, support and build programs and policies that provide effective solutions.

The good news is that we know what works; the task force heard about best practices throughout our deliberations. We must shift the paradigm of low expectations for high schools, in which some students are college-bound, some barely meet graduation requirements, and the rest leave without graduating. Today’s expectation is that ALL students graduate from high school ready for success in college and careers. Graduating every child means graduating EVERY child. We must put into place the policies and practices that ensure every child has a fair opportunity to succeed in school and life.

NCSL Task Force on School Dropout
Prevention and Recovery

This report, written by state legislators for state legislators, is a call to action. During the past 18 months, the National Conference of State Legislatures Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery has studied and debated the issues of high school dropout prevention and recovery, the education challenges facing our states and nation, and the role of state legislatures in helping all students navigate a path to success. Appointed in 2009, the bipartisan task force is comprised of 14 legislators—seven Republicans and seven Democrats—all veteran members and leaders of education and youth policy in their state legislatures.

The NCSL Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery met five times and heard from the nation’s premiere experts on dropout prevention. As a group, we feel it is critical that state legislators be leaders on the issue of dropout prevention and recovery. This report discusses what we learned about why kids drop out. It includes key policy recommendations we believe state legislatures can use to further state strategies around these issues, and to ensure that they are used effectively.