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Opinion

More Graduates, More Good News for GradNation

President & CEO, America's Promise Alliance

The GradNation campaign got two big shots of good news this week.

First, the U.S. Department of Education released preliminary data showing continued increases in high school graduation rates in most states. And the number of low-income students, minority students, students with disabilities and English language learners -- who graduated in 2014 is up in a majority of states as well.

That’s great news that builds on a decade of success. Thanks to hard work from America’s students, families, educators, and communities, we’ve seen the on-time high school graduation rate steadily climb to 81.4 percent, the highest it’s ever been. And more students of color are getting their diplomas than ever before.

That progress comes in part from hard work at the community level. With support from AT&T, more than 60 communities have convened GradNation Community Summits, bringing leaders from business, civic organizations, nonprofits, local government, public schools, higher education, foundations and faith-based organizations together to do what no one organization or sector could do alone.

These summits – there will be 100 of them by the end of 2016 – are producing blueprints for change that enjoy broad-based support and will help to increase local graduation rates. They’re proving what’s possible when organizations work together.

Cue the second piece of great news: We’re taking the work and learnings from the community level to the states, where so much of the education action takes place.

With support from Pearson, we’ve launched the GradNation State Activation Initiative,  an opportunity to support statewide efforts to raise graduation rates. Organizations in 26 states applied for grants, and a blue-ribbon panel of judges selected three – Arizona, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Each will receive a $200,000 grant to support innovative projects to raise statewide graduation rates, replicate promising practices, and develop models that all states can use.

In Arizona, mayors from small towns and large cities have determined that raising graduation rates is vital to helping residents and boosting the economy. In all, 16 mayors have come together in The Mayor’s Education Roundtable, and they will work with WestEd to support cross-sector partnerships to raise graduation rates in all 16 cities. 

Massachusetts has one of the nation’s highest graduation rates but also a very large disparity in graduation rates between English speakers and students whose first language is not English. The GradNation State Activation Initiative will support a state-level coalition of school districts that will focus on raising graduation rates for this population.

Minnesota also enjoys one of the nation’s highest graduation rates – and one of the nation’s largest gaps in graduation rates for low-income students, students of color, English language learners and young people with special needs. The grant will support a campaign to mobilize people across the state to increase graduation rates for the students who are currently being left behind. 

The challenges that Arizona, Massachusetts and Minnesota face are hardly unique. We hope and expect to learn lessons from their efforts that will help other states tackle these challenges as well. As part of the GradNation State Activation Initiative, we are creating a national learning community so all those working at the state and community levels will have the opportunity to learn from these three efforts – and from each other.

The nation is on pace to reach the GradNation goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020. But as we get closer to the goal, the going will likely get harder, not easier. And we have a long way to go to ensure the promise of opportunity—and the promise of America—for every young person, regardless of race, disability or family income.

The GradNation State Activation Initiative will help us get there, with states as diverse as Arizona, Massachusetts and Minnesota leading the way.

You can join the GradNation Activation Online Community. Just send an email to Corey Benjamin at [email protected] and say, “Count me in.”