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Posted at 12:01 AM ET, 11/30/2010

Report: Number of 'dropout factories' declines

By Valerie Strauss

The number of U.S. “dropout factory” high schools declined from 2002 through 2008, a new report says, but close to 40 percent of minority students continue to fail to graduate with their class.

According to the report, called "Building a Grad Nation” and being released today, the pace of improvement is too slow to meet a national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

The number of dropout factory high schools fell by 261, from a high of 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008, a decline of 13 percent, the report said, and the actual number of students in these schools dropped by 15 percent.

“Dropout factories,” first identified by Johns Hopkins University researchers early in this decade, are defined as schools at which less than 60 percent of students who started as freshmen are still enrolled four years later. Half of the nation’s dropouts are believed to come from these schools.

There was no single approach that resulted in the decline in dropout factories, according to Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz, one of the report’s authors. Different school districts tried varying approaches that combined academic efforts along with out-of-school support for children.

Organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs provided mentoring and extended learning supports, but, the report said, there is simply "not enough manpower in high-needs schools to provide" supports at the scale needed.

According to the Education Department, the national graduation rate increased from 72 percent to 75 percent between 2001 and 2008. In 1970, it was 78 percent.

It should be noted, however, that the data are not exact because states do not use a uniform method of calculating dropouts. Some progress is being made on that score; in 2005, all 50 governors agreed to a common calculation of high school graduation rates, and by the end of this year, 33 states will be using this calculation, making it easier to compare across state lines.

In the seminal report earlier in this decade, “Locating the Dropout Crisis,” Balfanz and another Johns Hopkins researcher identified the high schools that were producing the largest number of dropouts as being concentrated in 50 large and medium-sized cites and 10 Southern and Southwestern states.

The newest report, by Balfanz and other reseachers from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins (and also an initiative of the public policy firm Civic Enterprises and Gen. Colin Powell's nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance), said:

*Tennessee and New York led the nation in boosting high school graduation rates, with gains of 15 and 10 percentage points respectively.

*Twenty-nine states increased high school graduation rates. Eighteen had rates that stayed essentially the same, while Arizona, Nevada and Utah had noticeable declines.

*Most of the decline in the number of dropout factories occurred in the South, with 216 or the 261 schools in nine Southern states.

*The rate of progress over the last decade is too slow to reach the national goal of having 90 percent of students graduate from high school and obtain at least one year of post-secondary schooling or training by 2020.


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 30, 2010; 12:01 AM ET
Categories:  High School, Research  | Tags:  america's promise, bilding a grad nation, dropout factories, dropout factory, graduation rates  
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It is interesting to see how the selection of comparison years in the new Johns Hopkins report, starting with the 2001-02 school year, and then only looking at the 2007-08 year, creates just about the best possible image of progress in high school graduation rates Kentucky. The state’s actual performance over time does not look so rosy according to Averaged Freshman Graduation Rates (AFGR) calculated by the National Center for Education Statistics.

If the Hopkins study had looked farther back to the early years after the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990, the research team would have found a more revealing picture. That more revealing picture is discussed in a new Bluegrass Institute report, “KERA @ 20” (on line here:

Figure 1 in the new Bluegrass Institute report shows Kentucky actually achieved its highest ever AFGR way back in the 1993-94 school term (79.2%).

The state’s AFGR then started to decay, dropping almost 10 points to a low around 69.7 to 69.8 that just happened to occur in the 1999-00 to 2001-02 period.

That low was even lower than the AFGR of 72.9 that Kentucky posted in 1990-91, the year after the state’s education reform act was passed – too soon for the reform to have much classroom-level impact on graduating students.

What is most important today, however, is Kentucky’s recent AFGR history. Kentucky hit a new peak in its AFGR in 2005-06 of 77.2, four points above the national average, but still lower than the all time peak the state hit back in 1993-94.

Sadly, the trend of improvement didn’t last. Since 2006, the state experienced two successive years of declining AFGR’s. The latest available data for 2007-08 shows an AFGR of 74.4, which is again below the national average and also lower than the notably better rates from the early 1990’s.

Hopkins also got a fact incorrect in its Kentucky data pages (on line here: Under the “Definitions and Sources” section of the “Context” page, the Hopkins team says all graduation reporting will shift in 2011-12 to the US Department of Education Rate using longitudinal databases.

Not so for Kentucky! Its student tracking program, called Infinite Campus, is years behind other states in development.

At present, Kentucky does not anticipate the start of reporting under the US Department of Education’s “Cohort” definition, as it is called, until 2014. Kentucky will have to use AFGR reporting until then. Thus, the state won’t report its first high-quality graduation rate data until nearly a quarter of a century after passage of its education reform.

For access to much more information about Kentucky’s long-running education reform, readers can check “KERA @ 20” and the full-length companion report, “KERA (1990 – 2010): What Have We Learned,” (on line here:

Posted by: Richard_Innes | November 30, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

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