U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced she will take administrative steps to ensure all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time, and how many drop out. Secretary Spellings stated the data would be made public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background, and income level are performing. The Secretary made the announcement during remarks on the need for a more comprehensive and precise definition of "graduation rate" at a press conference hosted by America's Promise Alliance and State Farm on the Alliance's dropout prevention campaign.
Thank you, Marguerite, for your introduction.
As General Powell has told us, in many of our largest cities, only half of students are graduating from high school. Many urban districts graduate as few as 25 to 35 percent of students on time, compared to 75 percent in suburban districts. And it's no surprise that poor and minority students are far more likely to suffer from this "silent epidemic."
As we've heard firsthand from Kareema, the dropout crisis is having a profound impact on young people. Nationwide, only half of African American and Hispanic students graduate from high school on time. That's unacceptable, especially now that 90% of our fastest-growing jobs require education or training beyond high school.
I'm glad that this issue unites a bi-partisan coalition of people from business to government to the nonprofit sector. It is a pleasure to be here today with General and Mrs. Powell of America's Promise, Senators Richard Burr and Jeff Bingaman, Marc Morial of the National Urban League, Ed Rust of State Farm and Vicki Phillips of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
One reason that the high school dropout crisis is known as the "silent epidemic" is that the problem is frequently masked or minimized by inconsistent and opaque data reporting systems. For example, in some districts, a student who leaves school is counted as a dropout only if he or she registers as one. In others, a dropout's promise to get a G.E.D. at an unspecified future date is good enough to merit "graduate" status. With such loose definitions of what it means to graduate, it's no wonder this epidemic has been so silent!
Fortunately, the need for more accurate graduation rates and greater accountability is an issue of strong consensus. Last May I was pleased to join the First Lady, several governors, and others for the National Summit on America's Silent Epidemic. As far back as 2005, all 50 governors agreed to adopt a common, more accurate measure. Since then, educators and policymakers, including those who are with us today, have echoed their call. And my department is moving forward to answer it.
In the coming weeks, I will take administrative steps to ensure that all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time, and how many drop out. In addition, we will make this data public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background, and income level are performing.
I'm counting on everybody here to speak out in support of this effort in the coming weeks. As we've seen with NCLB, disaggregated data is a powerful motivator for change and improvement, and especially for closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers. The more information consumers have, the better equipped they are to demand, and achieve, lasting school improvement. And the more information teachers have, the better able they are to customize and improve instruction.
As the President likes to say, you can't solve a problem until you diagnose it. By shining a light on which students drop out, when, and where, we will not only better diagnose the dropout crisis, we'll be on our way to ending it.