The Secret to Reducing High School Dropouts

Posted by Pamela Wong

Diploma Everyone agrees that we can’t have 1.3 million U.S. high school students dropping out every year—almost one in three.

This week, the America’s Promise Alliance and its partners are sponsoring here in Washington, D.C., the Building a Grad Nation Summit to “inspire a national movement to reach our goal of a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020.”

To this end, I think it is inspiring to look at how recent winners of the Baldrige Award for education have tackled this problem.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland, a 2010 award winner, surpassed the graduation rates of the nation, the state, and a comparable school district from 2006 through 2010. Further, according to a study published in Education Week, MCPS’s 2010 graduation rate of 87.4% is among the top for the 50 largest U.S. school districts.

At Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) in North Carolina, a 2008 award winner, the percentage of ninth graders who graduated four years later increased steadily from 64% in 2002–2003 to 80.7% in 2007–2008.

MCPS points to its graduation rate as an indicator of student satisfaction. Indeed, from 2007–2009, 83.3% to 87.7% of middle and high school students agreed or strongly agreed with “I am getting a good education at this school.” The district also has favorable results for how students perceive their school’s safety and its expectations of them.

I-SS identified alternative schools, alternative learning processes, and attendance as improvements that could impact its graduation rate. The district developed programs and processes to deal with these priorities and, in 2008, it reached the lowest high school dropout rate in its history. In addition, its attendance rate surpassed a local district, 20 peer districts, and the state, and class size in core subjects decreased.

The data from MCPS and I-SS show that having more students finish high school doesn’t depend on any one program or process. Rather, it results from student-centered excellence. Student-centered excellence, a core value of the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, must take into account “all educational program and service features and support that contribute value to your students.” Such behavior leads to student “acquisition, satisfaction, preference, and loyalty,” which may be reflected in the graduation rate.

I’d like to hear how your school district has increased its graduation rate.




About Barbara Fischer

NIST Baldrige
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