America's Promise Alliance Launches National Campaign to Combat Nation's High School Dropout and College-Readiness Crisis

Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation released April 1 finds that only about half of all students served by the main school systems in the nation's 50 largest cities graduate from high school. The report released by the America’s Promise Alliance and prepared by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center further reveals that in the metropolitan areas surrounding 35 of the nation’s largest cities, graduation rates in urban schools were lower than those in nearby suburban communities. In several instances, the disparity between urban-suburban graduation rates was more than 35 percentage points.

The report was released by Alma J. Powell, chair of the America’s Promise Alliance (Alliance), which is kicking off a national campaign to reduce high school dropout rates and prepare children for college, work and life. The campaign will include a series of ground-breaking, high-level Dropout Prevention summits to be held in every state and 50 communities over the next two years. General Colin Powell, founding chair of the Alliance, joined his wife in making the announcement – citing the dropout crisis as a threat to our economy and national security.

Nationwide, nearly one in three U.S. high school students drops out before graduating. In total, approximately 1.2 million students drop out each year – about 7,000 every school day, or one every 26 seconds.

The lead sponsor for the Dropout Prevention Campaign is the State Farm Insurance Company. State Farm is joined by AT&T, The Boeing Company, Ford Motor Company Fund, Casey Family Programs, ING Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.

In response to today’s report, Alma Powell was joined by Alliance Founding Chair General Powell; U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico); Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina); State Farm Chairman and CEO Edward B. Rust Jr.; National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial and others to launch the campaign. The campaign will bring mayors and governors, business owners, child advocates, school administrators, students and parents together to develop workable solutions and action plans for improving our nation’s alarming graduation rates. Several summits have already been held or are scheduled in Detroit, Tucson, Iowa and Mississippi. An additional 40 cities and states have committed.

“When more than one million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem, it’s a catastrophe. Our economic and national security are at risk when we fail to educate the leaders and the workforce of the future,” said General Powell. “It’s time for a national ‘call to arms,’ because we cannot afford to let nearly one-third of our kids fail.”

Research shows that the more support youth have, both inside and outside of the classroom, the more likely they are to stay in school. Specifically, research demonstrates that the more young people experience five essential wrap-around supports, what the Alliance calls the “Five Promises” – caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, effective education and opportunities to help others – the greater their chance for future success.

“The number one predictor of a young person’s future success is whether they graduate from high school,” said Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance. “But just conferring a diploma is not enough. Students today must graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, work and life. We must invest in the whole child, and that means finding solutions that involve the family, the school and the community.”

Experts say that dropping out of high school affects not just students and their families, but the country overall – including businesses, government and communities. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that high school dropouts from the Class of 2006-07 will cost the U.S. more than $329 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity over their lifetimes. Young people of color are most affected, because nearly half of all African-American and Native-American students will not graduate with their class, while less than six in 10 Hispanic students will. Experts say that those who drop out are more likely to be incarcerated, rely on public programs and social services, and go without health insurance than those who graduate from high school.

“Economic success is dependent upon educational opportunities. If we are to compete, it is essential that we address America’s growing dropout crisis,” said Edward B. Rust, Jr., chairman and CEO of State Farm Insurance Company. “I urge other businesses to join us in this campaign to ensure that all young people earn a high school diploma and are ready not only for college, but to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce.”

In announcing the summits, the Alliance emphasized that they are designed to both raise awareness and develop actual action plans that will help put local high schools on the road to improved graduation rates with a curriculum that better prepares young people for the workforce. The Alliance also underscored that these state and local efforts would need to be buttressed by strong federal action, including passage of ‘The Graduation Promise Act’ and the ‘Every Student Counts Act.’ Similarly, the Alliance offered its own solutions to the dropout crisis rooted in work the organization already has underway around health care access and insurance, middle-school student civic and vocational engagement and using schools as hubs for the delivery of comprehensive resources to kids.

“The key to increasing graduation rates is to stop working in isolation and to start working together,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance. “That’s why we are convening these summits. We need curriculum reform, after-school programs, efforts to improve health care and nutrition programs, increased resources and greater accountability. Most of all, we need to recognize that no one entity can solve this crisis alone, but working together, we can make enormous strides to ensure our children succeed.”

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