Grad Nation Summit inspires more than 1,000 in the fight to end the high school dropout crisis

The second annual Building a Grad Nation Summit, which took place earlier this week in Washington, D.C., brought more than 1,000 education stakeholders from 42 states together to discuss challenges and solutions to ending America’s high school dropout crisis. Among the attendees were more than 150 youth leaders who participated in a youth-only preconference on March 18 to share their ideas and role in dropout prevention. The Summit was hosted by America’s Promise Alliance, Alliance for Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center and featured the release of the latest report on the state of high school graduation rates in America.

The Summit officially kicked off on March 19 with America’s Promise Chair Alma J. Powell and Michael Powell, who co-chairs Grad Nation and also serves as President and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The opening session featured an announcement from AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson about the company expanding their education initiative AT&T Aspire to $250 million over five years. AT&T Aspire tackles high school success and college/career readiness for students at-risk of dropping out of high school through a much larger, socially-innovative approach.

The major announcement of the morning was the unveiling of the latest Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic report, which revealed that 24 states increased their high school graduation rates by modest to large gains, while the number of dropout factory high schools decreased by 457 between 2002 and 2010, with the rate of decline accelerating since 2008. Authors of the report from Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center then welcomed top executives from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, United Way Worldwide and AT&T Foundation to discuss their initiatives and efforts to bolster high school graduation rates nationally and in the communities they serve.

The morning session finished with remarks from Target, The White House and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who led a discussion with Luke Moore High School (D.C.) teacher Rose Smith, current high school student Daquan Burley and Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith, which provided meaningful insight into the work being accomplished on the ground level of dropout prevention efforts and school improvement grants.  

The remaining general sessions featured lively panel discussions on business in supporting education innovation and reform moderated by CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo and disrupting the status quo in education innovation moderated by Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, where key leaders in education, namely StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, were featured. During the dinner general session on March 19, America’s Promise President and CEO Marguerite Kondracke introduced incoming President and CEO John Gomperts, former Director of AmeriCorps.

Also noteworthy was the presence of young people at the conference. From representing youth voice and perspective on panels during the general sessions to presenting topics during breakout sessions to voicing their questions and opinions to presenters, the value placed on our nation’s future was evident. The evening entertainment provided by the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School steel drummers and the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts showcased the immeasurable talents of young people.

Summit attendees also learned about successful case studies from more than a dozen communities across the nation, including Houston, TX; Gwinnett County, GA; and Cincinnati, OH. They also participate in sessions with some of the nation’s most highly regarded practitioners and thought leaders on the following topics:

  • third grade reading
  • expanded learning opportunities
  • special challenges facing foster care
  • homeless and military youth
  • education legislative landscape
  • teacher quality
  • STEM
  • disconnected youth
  • rural youth
  • sustaining important youth programs in tough economic times

America’s Promise Chair Alma J. Powell, Founding Chairman General Colin Powell and George Lucas, filmmaker and chairman of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, delivered the closing luncheon remarks on March 20. General Powell spoke of the upcoming 15th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and reminded the crowd of the significance of the Five Promises and strong symbolism of the little red wagon.

Following the summit on March 21, about 200 attendees met with their Congressional representatives to discuss dropout prevention and supporting the America's Promise Grad Nation campaign.

The Summit was supported by Premier Sponsors State Farm® (Grad Nation Presenting Sponsor), AT&T, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Target and Signature Sponsors Apollo Group, Casey Family Programs, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Intel Corporation, Lumina Foundation, National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Pearson Foundation.