Members of Congress recently introduced a bill that would require states to improve graduation rates to 90 percent and to report data uniformly. It's expected to be pushed through with a revamping of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The "Every Student Counts Act" would strengthen regulations developed in 2008 that require states to use the same formula when reporting graduation rates. Introduced in the Senate by Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa and in the House by Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, the legislation would set a graduation rate goal of 90 percent for all students, including those with disabilities and those who live in poverty-stricken areas. Schools would be expected to increase graduation rates by 3 percentage points each year.
The bill would also allow states to report overall graduation rates, not just four-year graduation rates.
The national high school graduation rate was 74.9 percent in 2008, the last year for which data was available. Many of the nation's dropouts come from about 1,600 schools that graduate 60 percent or fewer of their students. The number of these "dropout factories" declined between 2008 and 2009, according to a recent study.
Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who now heads the Alliance for Excellent Education, said high school graduation is important not only for students' future earnings, but also for the economy of the entire country.
"Graduation rates are not only an indicator of a school's success; they are also a critical predicator of a community's economic health," he said in a statement. "Nearly 1.3 million students did not graduate from high school in 2010, costing the nation over $337 billion in lost lifetime earnings."
Phillip Lovell, vice president of federal advocacy for the Alliance, said the bill is expected to be attached to a reworked No Child Left Behind Act, which President Barack Obama recently asked Congress to work on.