• September 1, 2015

High-School Dropout Rate Is Cited as a Key Barrier to Obama's College-Completion Goal

A senior Education Department official, speaking at a college-readiness forum here on Tuesday, singled out the nation's dropout rate among high-school students as a key obstacle to fulfilling President Obama's goal of putting the United States atop the world by 2020 in the proportion of residents with a college degree.

Gregory M. Darnieder, special assistant and senior adviser to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the secretary's Initiative on College Access, said 30 percent of the nation's high-school students are not graduating. He said the graduation rate in a couple of states is so bad that the high schools there are considered "dropout factories," graduating less than 60 percent of their high-school students.

Four or five other states also have especially poor track records, with between 30 and 40 percent of their high schools graduating less than 60 percent of students, he said.

"This has definitely caught the president's attention," said Mr. Darnieder, who made his remarks during the College and Career Readiness Symposium held by McGraw-Hill Education and the Center for Digital Education. "He has challenged us as a country to get to a 60-percent postsecondary graduation rate by the year 2020."

Mr. Darnieder highlighted the various programs the Education Department is pursuing to strengthen elementary and secondary education and higher education. He also stressed that the department is tired of the blame game between schools and colleges, and even between the different grade levels in elementary and secondary education, over who is responsible for poor student performance.

Rather, he said, the department wants more cooperation between the sectors to plug gaps in the education pipeline. He said too many students graduate from high school and end up taking remedial classes in college. For example, nearly 60 percent of community-college students take at least one remedial course, according to a 2009 report by the Community College Research Center.


1. bbetzen - May 25, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Mr. Darnieder is correct. The dropout rate is the weakness of our U.S. educational system and student apathy is the cause. Students have no vision for their place in the history of our nation, no vision for their own future and where they are going. Without a vision past next weekend, time is wasted.

In 2005 our inner city Dallas middle school, Quintanilla, bolted a "repurposed" gun vault to the floor in the central location in our lobby. It became the School Archive where our leaving 8th graders placed letters they spent the last week of 8th grade writing about their lives, their story, and their plans for the future. These letters are placed into a self-addressed evelope, often with letters from their parents to them speaking of their own wishes for their childs future. These two letters are sealed into the envelope and placed into the vault by the student. They know they will stay there until their 8th grade class 10-year class reunion. At that reunion they know they will not only retrieve these letters but be invited to speak with the then current 8th grade classes about their recommendations for success.

Our students are warned to prepare for questions such as "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

That original Quintanilla 8th grade class of 2005 graduated high school as the Class of 2009 at the two high schools receiving almost all of our students. Both graduation classes were the largest in a decade at both high schools. Both those schools now have the largest 11th and 12th grade classes in history! This school Archive Project is having a very positive effect. There are now 5 more schools with Archive Projects in Dallas ISD. See www.studentmotivation.org for details.

2. darrinm8840 - May 26, 2010 at 07:48 am

This one is a little obvious. Worse to boot. New plans to base teacher pay and state funding with student performance will only make things worse.

I am not a teacher but I tutor people for the GED, in a Chicago Mexican-immigrant suburb. The school district tells kids to quit before they take state wide exams so that they don't bring down the school adverage score.

By the time I see them they are 18-25 and want to learn. But now they need child care, financial support, muliti-sensory teaching. In other works social work. How are they going to get a second level of education?

Testing and humiliation is not the answer.

3. 11250382 - May 26, 2010 at 10:26 am

It begins in kindergarten - all the children are "special," no one loses, score is not kept in youth baseball (like the children don't know who won!). Children are passed through year after year whether they meet grade-level expectations or not. They hit college totally unprepared academically and socially. They have not learned to deal with criticism, not learned to strive toward a goal. They know that no matter how they perform, someone will tell them how special and important they are -- they know better. We are failing our students at every turn.

4. jbarman - May 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

Exacerbating this situation is the fact that even the graduates may have gotten through high school without learning anything.

In our local school system (and I imagine, in most other school systems), students can graduate high school with a "D" average.
As others have noted, students just keep getting passed along from grade to grade whether they have learned anything or not.

With degree inflation now prevalent in the U.S., the result of unprepared students is that my graduate finance courses are populated with an embarrassing number of individuals whose writing and computational abilities are objectively terrible. Many students in every one of my classes are stumped if asked to go beyond very basic arithmetic or short-answer writing assignments.

Accordingly, unprepared kids are getting passed through high school and undergraduate degrees as well.

5. nuffsed - May 26, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Adult High School and GED classes are swelling at our community college. And even among those who do have a HS diploma we see a number of ill prepared students that end up in developmental classes to learn what they should have been taught in high school so that they can move on into college level courses. This really hurts our displaced workers the most because they have a limited number of semesters to finish their courses before their retraining funding runs out.

6. soc_sci_anon - May 26, 2010 at 03:21 pm

With all due respect, improving college completion rates, especially for kids from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, is the key. The proportion of US residents without a HS degree has been dropping like a stone over the past 25 years. (HS dropout rates aren't directly relevant to Obama's goal, because a nontrivial proportin of students who drop out of HS return to finish or get GED equivalents.)

The students who go to college but don't finish are the low-hanging fruit, if you will. They are capable enough to be admitted to college in the first place and hence, on average, are more capable than those who didn't get admitted or didn't apply. Raising college completion rates, conditional on college entry, would go far to meet Obama's goal.

But, improving primary and secondary education is a political winner, as long as you take steps to assure the right that the children of illegals aren't being educated on "real Americans'" dime. Higher education, by contrast, is too full of them socialist lib'rals to be at the top of state and federal congress-critters' funding lists.

7. 11141956 - May 26, 2010 at 08:56 pm

And why pray tell, does the high school dropout rate continue to be a problem? I submit because the administration before this one and this one have failed to recognize those already existing programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP that address this very problem and do so effectively. What these programs need is more monetary teeth so they can reach more students rather than having each administration feel the need to invest millions and billions of dollars in programs that have not proven themselves just so they have their own stamp on something. How about serving the interests of the students and their communities and not the interests of the politicians and bureaucrats.

8. marka - May 27, 2010 at 01:09 am

A goal of completion of a program is the wrong goal -- it is a metric suggesting that something wrong might be going on, but not, by itself a measure of success.

As some of the comments note, we have many students 'graduating' from high school who are simply not prepared for college. Many surveys have shown that our current graduates aren't great at civics, whether high school or college graduates.

Focusing on dropout rates & completion rates are but one of many more important factors to look at. Focusing on them alone simply encourages institutions to fudge the figures by social promotion & 'graduating' many who are not really qualified.

What should be measured is more meaningful outcomes, such as those suggested by the Wake Forest article -- what kinds of lives do grads have, not what piece of paper do they have.

9. honore - May 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

"High-School Dropout Rate Is Cited as a Key Barrier to Obama's College-Completion Goal".

This is news? This is just laughable. Do we really need to wonder why H/E in America is increasingly a bigger joke?

News Flash...Suicide Rate Is Cited as a Key Barrier to Obama's Universal Health Care Enrollment"

10. 11233028 - June 02, 2010 at 10:39 am

The high schools are scary. I know students who have gotten GEDs, so they wouldn't have to put up with the insaneness at their schools. The huge schools don't help. Bring back smaller schools with expectations of respect. It was such a privilege to go to school, just one-two generations ago. Maybe,it should be a privilege,again. I work with adult students who now realize how important education is to get a job.Obviously, forced education isn't working.

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