The Dropout Crisis Cure

By Susan Black

Each year, 1.2 million high school students drop out of our nation’s public high schools. Every day, on average, some 7,000 students leave school and never return.

Overall, the nationwide dropout rate is about 30 percent. States and school districts use various methods to count dropouts, but many researchers consider the cohort rate to be the most accurate. It measures the proportion of students in a particular group, such as ninth-graders, who fail to graduate.

In Iowa, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, the dropout rate hovers below 20 percent, but in Nevada the rate is about 45 percent, and in South Carolina it’s 40 percent. In 2009, California’s dropouts numbered more than 175,000, more than three times the capacity of Yankee Stadium.

Many U.S. teens leave so-called “dropout factories,” the term Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher, applies to some 2,000 high schools that regularly lose 40 percent or more of their students. These chronically underperforming schools -- about 12 percent of the nation’s high schools -- are mainly in northern and western cities and in the southern states.

How do U.S. dropout rates compare to those in other industrialized countries? A 2006 study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 21st out of 28 countries, lower than Germany, Greece, and Slovenia and barely above Estonia, New Zealand, and Spain.

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.