Debate over the No Child Left Behind revision continues on the Senate floor as lawmakers attempt to find middle ground on how the education law should be changed, and how it can best serve students and teachers while improving the American education system.
At the bottom of discussions of teacher evaluations, school assessments and standardized testing is a focus on how to close achievement gaps and enhance the performance of the bottom 5 percent of schools and students. Legislators want students to be making it through the educational system -- and they want those kids graduating.
A report in July notes that high school dropouts cost between $320 billion and $350 billion annually in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs. About a quarter of those who entered high school this year won't earn a diploma, and according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics, someone who did not complete high school will earn about $630,000 less over their lifetime than someone who has earned at least a GED.
To add to that, changes to calculations make the situation appear even bleaker. While high school dropouts aren't eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in the economy, an overhaul of flawed measurement formulas that often undercounted dropouts and inflated graduation rates would lead some states to see graduation rates fall by as many as 20 percentage points.
But the new NCES report reports a silver lining: the number of high school dropouts is already decreasing. The report released last week studied dropout and graduation rates between 1972 and 2009. For students aged 15 to 25, 3.4 percent dropped out between grades 10 and 12, down from 5 percent a decade prior and 6.7 percent in 1979.
While the trend appears promising, the report's more disturbing discovery is that there were about 3 million 16- to 24-year-olds in October 2009 who were neither enrolled in high school nor had earned a high school diploma or alternative degree. These dropouts accounted for 8.1 percent of the 38 million U.S. noninstitutionalized and civilians in that age group not in high school and without a high school credential.
Minority students dropped out at disproportionately higher rates than their White counterparts -- In 2009, 4.8 percent of of blacks and 5.8 percent of Hispanics between 15 and 24 dropped out of grades 10-12, compared with 2.4 percent for white students.
Also in 2009, the dropout rate for low-income students was five times greater than their high-income counterparts -- 7.4 percent compared with 1.4 percent.