Why Obama’s 2020 graduation goal isn’t attainable
President Obama has set this as a goal by 2020: That all adult Americans would have committed to at least one year of higher education or career training and America would have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
Setting aside the issue of whether you think his K-12 reforms will be any help toward that goal (any even casual reader of this blog knows that I don’t), there is a numbers game working against the realization of his goal.
And his newly released proposed education budget for 2012 isn’t going to help him get there.
The issue was raised in a recent report called “Building a Grad Nation,” (issued by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University and America’s Promise Alliance).
The report is actually something of a roadmap for reform that, if followed, would presumably lead to Obama’s goal, set in his 2009 State of the Union Address, coming true.
According to the report, the country would need a 90 percent high school graduation by 2020 to meet Obama’s goal. To do that, you’d need 600,000 more high school diplomas in the class of 2020 (assuming constant population growth) than we had in 2008.
And to do this, we’d have to:
*substantially increase the number of struggling students reading at grade level by 5th grade
*reduce chronic absenteeism
*conduct needs and capacity assessments of targeted schools.
The benchmarks for 2013, the report says, include:
*early warning and intervention systems in every targeted school district and state
*re-design of middle grades as necessary to foster high student engagement and preparation for rigorous high school courses
*the placement of a trained non-profit school success mentor for every 15-20 students with off-track indicators.
The benchmarks for 2016, the report says, include:
*transforming or replacing the nation’s dropout factories and providing transition supports for struggling students in grades 8-10 in all schools with graduation rates below 75 percent
*providing all students (including those who have dropped out) with clear pathways from high school to career training and college; and the compulsory school age being raised to 18 in all states.
Now let's consider the goal from the grade-level reading perspective: The class of 2020 is in 3rd grade right now. And the latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that as many as two-thirds of the class of 2018 are not proficient in reading.
A child who doesn't read by the end of third grade is far less likely to graduate from high school -- much less attend college -- than a child who does. A 2010 study of Chicago students found that fewer than 20 percent of students who were below grade level in third grade attended college, compared to about a third of students who were at grade level, and nearly 60 percent of students who were reading above grade level.
It would take some sort of miracle to turn around that cohort of kids. Don’t count on it.
If there is any chance to ever reach Obama's goal, the country will have to pay serious attention to what happens to kids -- especially the 23 percent who live in poverty -- before they get to third grade.
Parents have to start talking and reading to their kids; research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child’s vocabulary at age 3. A study on language development showed that children living in poverty hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4.
But more is required. Daycare providers need to be equipped to help develop literacy skills. We need high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for all kids. Curriculum and instruction has to be top-notch, kids have to show up for school and, somehow, keep reading during the summer so they don’t fall behind.
The aim is to bring together public and philanthropic efforts to close the gap in reading achievement and to lobby so that grade-level reading by the end of third grade becomes an explicit priority for educators, policymakers, civic leaders, parents and advocates.
It’s something of a shame that Obama’s proposed 2012 budget didn’t make reading a priority. Instead the president and his education secretary continue their K-12 priorities of the past: standardized tests, charter schools, competitive funding.
Some experts say that the goal can't be met without more older adults enrolling in college. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the percentage of 25- to 49-year-olds without college degrees who are enrolled in college has been declining slightly since 1990, when 8.1 percent of such adults were pursuing a degree; only 6.5 percent of that group are now enrolled in college. But increasing this cohort is probably going to require new federal aid, and in this budget-cutting environment, that's not going to happen.
The Grad Nation report says that reform efforts have produced an increase in the national graduation rate; it increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. But it also says this:
"The pace is too slow to meet the national goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. We must calibrate our educational system to the greater demands of the 21st century through a Civic Marshall Plan to make more accelerated progress in boosting student achievement, high school graduation rates, and college- and career-readiness for our nation to meet national goals and fulfill the promise of the next generation.”
That sounds right. But judging from our education policy, that’s not going to happen.
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| February 15, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: High School, Higher Education | Tags: 2012 budget, 2020, early literacy, graduation 2020, obama, obama 2020 goal, obama budget, reading by 3rd grade
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