Big decrease in number of ‘dropout factory’ high schools

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation has far fewer so-called “dropout factory” high schools these days, down sharply from 2008 as more students leave high school with a diploma, according to a new report.

The number of dropout factories — where less than 60 percent of students who started as freshmen remain enrolled four years later — dropped from 1,812 in 2008 to 1,040 last year. Also down since 2008 is the number of high school dropouts, falling from 1 million in 2008 to about 744,000 in 2012 — a 27 percent cut in four years.

The numbers were released Tuesday in a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the report shows real progress toward ensuring that all students have access to a quality education.

“Turning around schools that have struggled for years, sometimes decades, is some of the hardest work but most important work in education,” Duncan said in a phone call with reporters.

Robert Balfanz, head of the Everyone Graduates Center, said some of the dropout factory schools got better by providing teacher coaching, giving teachers more time to collaborate and offering more support for students at high-need schools.

Other schools, Balfanz said, were closed and replaced with better alternatives or parents left and transferred their children to other schools.

Students attending schools with low-graduation rates are disproportionately poor and minority, said the report. Turning those schools around remains a priority, said Duncan, as he called for eliminating dropout factories by 2020.

Duncan used the report to push Congress to return to work on an update of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law. The House and Senate each passed their own versions of rewrite legislation in July, but need to reconcile the differences between the two bills.

Duncan said any compromise measure needs to include more accountability, especially for the lowest-performing schools.

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