Progress is No Accident

Report Urges Congress to Include Accountability Provisions in ESEA Reauthorization

Progress is No AccidentFive national organizations urged Congress in a report released this week to continue the federal policies that are increasing high school graduation rates.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University released Progress is No Accident: Why ESEA Can’t Backtrack on High School Graduation Rates, which documents the rise of graduation rates in recent years and explains the policies and interventions behind the progress.

According to the report, the number of U.S. students who did not finish high school has fallen by 27 percent, from over 1 million in 2008 to approximately 744,000 in 2011. And the number of “dropout factories” – high schools where less than 60 percent of students make it to their senior year – have declined from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,040 in 2014.

Progress is No AccidentThe report says federal policies contributed to this progress by holding states and schools accountable for improving high school graduation rates and prioritizing reform among low-performing high schools.

But the report says current efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) do not focus enough on graduation rate accountability, threatening future progress. Moreover, serious challenges to high school graduation rates remain, including the large gaps in high school graduation rates between white students and students of color.

“In 15 states, the gap in high school graduation rates between African American and white students is more than 15 percentage points,” the report says. “Twelve states, meanwhile, have a gap of 15 percentage points or more between the graduation rates of white and Latino students. This gap grew in nine states over the past four years.”

“To keep the momentum going, close the graduation gaps that still exist, and reach the GradNation campaign goal, state accountability systems must continue to be a priority," said John Gomperts, president & CEO of America’s Promise. “Recent gains in graduation rates show us that when states and schools are held accountable and students are given the support they need to stay in school and on track to graduation, real progress is possible."

“Federal policy and local action are working; data and dedication are making diplomas,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, “but with more than 4,000 students still dropping out per school day, now is not the time for the federal government to take its foot off the high school graduation rate pedal.”

The report calls for a reauthorization of ESEA that maintains an emphasis on low-performing high schools and builds on the effective policies currently in place.

“All high schools that fail to graduate one-third or more of their students must be included in state accountability systems,” the report says. These schools should also be eligible for federal school improvement funding and receive support to implement evidence-based, comprehensive reform.

The report concludes by urging Congress to continue to support policies that work.   

“Today, far more young people graduate from high school,” it says. “[Congress] must seize the opportunity to put even more young people on the path toward a diploma.”

For the full report, see Progress is No Accident: Why ESEA Can’t Backtrack on High School Graduation Rates.

For additional information about ways ESEA can support traditionally underserved students and support low-graduation-rate high schools, see Equity and ESEA: Holding High Schools Accountable for Traditionally Underserved Students and Below the Surface: Solving the Hidden Graduation Rate Crisis.