John M. Bridgeland, a Cincinnati native and former White House staffer, explains why a newly-authorized ESEA must include a federal role in requiring states to intervene in “high schools failing to graduate one-third or more of students.” Bridgeland recalls Ohio’s “dropout crisis” “this silent epidemic went unchecked for years largely because the problem was masked by inaccurate measures of graduation rates and low expectations for many students.” The crisis has been ameliorated through No Child Left Behind’s accountability and oversight mandates, but 60,000 students at 47 high schools there are still at risk.
The U.S. Senate should build upon – not undercut – the Bush and Obama policies that are working to strengthen graduation rates. Specifically, the new education law must ensure high schools failing to graduate one-third or more of students are identified and addressed appropriately by states and districts. The majority of these schools need and deserve additional support to turnaround. Others, like some of Ohio’s worrisome e-schools, need to be held accountable for failing our students. In addition, if a group of historically underserved students such as African American, Latino and low-income students consistently demonstrates low performance, interventions should be implemented. The types of interventions should be determined at the state and local levels, but federal policy should ensure these interventions take place. No student should be shortchanged.
Prioritizing support for high schools that fail to graduate one-third of students won’t guarantee that the 60,000 young Ohioans attending these schools will achieve the American dream. But it will give them the opportunity to earn it.