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Dropout Prevention

Dropout Prevention

Make High School Graduation a Priority

Make High School Graduation a Priority

High School Graduation Rates

NEA is a longstanding advocate of efforts to increase graduation rates and ensure access to educational opportunities for all students.  As an early voice that helped focus national attention on preventing high school dropout, NEA has pressed partners and policymakers to support interventions that would close achievement gaps and foster collaborations that would equip families, communities, and educators with the necessary resources to ensure more students graduate from high school.    

The following information represents some of the latest findings related to high school dropout and efforts to increase graduation rates.

More students are graduating from high school than 10 years ago.

  • The nation’s graduation rate is currently at 81 percent.
  • High schools where reported enrollment in 12th grade is 60 percent or less declined by one-third from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,359 in 2012. 

Despite successes in increasing graduation rates, much work remains.

  • Graduation rates for American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic students remain below the national average at 65, 67, and 71 percent, respectively.  In fact 12 percent of Black students are retained in ninth grade — about double the rate of all students retained, which is six percent.    
  • Findings for economically disadvantaged students, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities also fall below the national average for all students at 70, 57, and 62 percent, respectively. 
  • Estimates reveal 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor working.  In addition, children under 18 years of age represent 23 percent of the population, and they comprise 33 percent of all people living in poverty. 
  • Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor. 

Ensuring equity for all students will drive graduation rates even higher. 

  • Chronic Absenteeism:  Estimates suggest that 5 million to 7.5 million students are chronically absent, resulting in substantial achievement gaps.  Some reasons students may not attend school regularly are attributed to illness, environmental apathy, run-ins with the juvenile justice system, unsafe neighborhoods, and lack of housing.  About one in four Black and Hispanic children live in unsafe neighborhoods, compared with less than one in ten white children.  Research also finds that student attending schools where more than 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch are more likely to report missing three or more days of school.      
  • School to Prison Pipeline:  Annually approximately three million students are suspended from school each year.  Seventy percent of students arrested or referred to the police at school are Black and Latino.  On average, states spend $88,000 to incarcerate a young person, but only $10,000 to educate one. 
  • Cuts to vital programs:  Massive state budget cuts are affecting access to key dropout prevention factors such as early education, health programs and screenings, and well-rounded curricula.  Fifty-four percent of children aged three to four are not attending preschool.  In addition 16 percent of all elementary students do not have access to the visual arts, and two-thirds of these students attend low-income schools where more than half of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  Data also show that only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provided daily physical education.      
  • Students with Disabilities:  The National Center for Education Statistics reports modest gains in the graduation rate for students with disabilities, showing 62 percent for school year 2012-2013.  Data, however, also show that students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.  In addition, students with disabilities were subject to physical restraint at a rate six times that of other students, leading to suspensions, which without proper intervention, leads to dropout. 

NEA recommends that increasing graduation rates remain a federal, state, and local priority. 

  • Engage students:  Act early so students do not drop out by providing high quality, universal preschool and full-day kindergarten; strong elementary programs that ensure students are doing grade-level work when they enter middle school; and middle school programs that address causes of dropping out in these grades and ensure that students have access to algebra, science, and other courses that serve as the foundation for high school and postsecondary success. 
  • Advocate together:  Families, communities, and educators should advocate together for student supports that provide the intervention, social/emotional and legal support, academic assistance, and career programs to ensure students graduate from high school. 
  • Prioritize middle grades interventions:  Factors in sixth grade can present powerful indicators of whether a student will graduate on time or at all.   Failing grades in math or English/reading; low attendance rates; or receiving unsatisfactory behavior grades severely impact students’ chances of graduating.  Interventions should support improvements in these specific areas, ensuring students catch-up academically and have access to targeted early adolescent programs. 
  • Support prevention:  Policies and programs that prevent dropout must be fully funded and preserved.  In addition, expand students’ graduation options through creative partnerships with community colleges in career and technical fields and with alternative schools so that students have other ways to earn high school diplomas.  Increasing access to high quality career education and workforce readiness programs allows students to see the connection between school and careers after graduation. 
  • Invest in professional development:  Educators need access to programs that help instruction and engagement of diverse students and at-risk youth.