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New Report Provides Policy Framework for States To Stem High School

Legislative action is imperative to better assist struggling students through high school and beyond, says Jobs For the Future (JFF), a nonprofit advocacy organization.

As the nation’s high school graduation rate remains stagnate and historically disadvantaged students drop out of high school with greater frequency than their White counterparts, most states have failed in taking substantial action to reverse the troubling trend.

To assist state policymakers in formulating transformative educational policy to reduce high school attrition rates, JFF presents a comprehensive framework for helping all students persevere and succeed in and beyond high school, especially low-income students, who are more likely than their more affluent peers to drop out of high school or be unprepared for college and employment.

In its latest report, “Raising Graduation Rates in an Era of High Standards: Five Commitments for State Action,” JFF calls on states to exercise crucial leadership by adopting five specific recommendations:


  • Create a high school diploma that signifies college- and work-readiness.
  • Establish pathways to high school graduation and college for older, under-credited and out-of-school youth.
  • Turn around low-performing high schools.
  • Increase the emphasis on graduation rates and college-readiness in the next generation of accountability
  • Provide early and continuous support for struggling students.


“For the sake of our students and our nation, we urge state policymakers to review the recommendations in this report and commit to implementing them as soon as possible,” said Marlene B. Seltzer, JFF president and CEO, in an official statement. “In doing so, states can raise graduation rates without compromising high college- and work-readiness standards and take a critical step to improving the economic prospects of our citizenry and our nation as a whole.”

The United States must explore and implement strategies that help more students complete high school and succeed in college if the nation is going to remain competitive in an increasingly demanding global marketplace, researchers at JFF say.

Today just 65 percent of low-income students earn a high school diploma, and only 21 percent of those graduates are adequately prepared for college-level work, the report notes. By comparison, more than 90 percent of middle- and upper-class students graduate, and 54 percent are prepared for college.

The report, a joint project between JFF and Achieve, Inc., an organization created by the nation’s governors to help states raise academic standards, aims to help individual states identify and implement aggressive policies to help more young people stay in school as states raise academic standards and expectations. Highlighted in this report are several examples of such policies and practices being used today.

Under Oregon state law, all school districts are required to provide alternative learning options for students. These options must be flexible with regard to environment, time, structure, and pedagogy. Under North Carolina’s “Learn and Earn” program, students can earn both a high school diploma and up to two years of college credit or an associate degree, tuition free.


JFF asserts that state policymakers need to develop ways to monitor course content, student achievement, and course-taking patterns while also encouraging opportunities for innovation at the local level. Dual enrollment and other forms of college course-taking in high school should be considered.


According to JFF, lawmakers have the unique ability to create the conditions that foster new models for helping these students. In addition to highly skilled teachers and leaders, school developers often need charter-like conditions such as low enrollments, academic rigor, and other factors that give them the flexibility to do what is necessary to best serve their students.


America’s “dropout factories,” a mere 15 percent of public high schools, produce more than half of the dropouts and have proven immune to several generations of reform. States must identify these schools, and then create the conditions, capacity, and resources to turn them around, Seltzer says.


High school dropouts do not develop overnight, the report notes. Indeed, research has identified specific “early warning” indicators, such as sporadic attendance and failing core academic classes in middle school or 9th grade. States need to support districts’ efforts to gather and act on this data before it is too late, JFF researchers say.

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