The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has vowed to "fix" public schools. By 2020, its goal is to have nine of every 10 students whoenter high school actually graduate.We have a long way to go to achieve that dream.Right now, one American high school student in three drops out before graduation. That's an abysmal rate, and it has implications not just for those individuals, but for the U.S. economy as a whole.Yes, there is some evidence of improvement. Nationally, the graduation rate rose from 72 percent in 2001 to 75 percent in 2008.And although the states have simultaneously toughened curricula and tests, more than half have managed to raise graduation rates as well.That's encouraging.
The number of the nation's "dropout factories" - high schools where less than 60 percent of those who enroll as freshmen are still enrolled four years later - is also down a smidge.In 2002, no fewer than 2,007 American high schools were identified as "dropout factories."By 2008, the latest years for which figures are available, states had managed to cut the number of dropout factories to 1,746.
That translates to an estimated 100,000 more high school graduates in the United States.The states, the "laboratories of democracy," are trying many approaches to help more students finish high school.More than 30 states simply raised their compulsory attendance age to 17 or 18 in an effort to make students graduate. Others, including West Virginia, passed laws that lift the driver's licenses of students who drop out.But in the end, compassion will probably work better than compulsion.In Georgia, officials put "graduation coaches" in high schools to help students on the verge of disengaging. Several schools in Kanawha County have also been
encouraged with the results of that approach.All this is to the good.Not that long ago, poor results were simply expected and accepted in some schools.That day is gone.That's the best news of all.