The current high school accountability system is failing our students. Almost one-third of America's high school students fail to graduate with their peers.
The numbers are worse for minorities – only about half of African American students and 60 percent of Hispanic students graduate on time with a regular diploma.
These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Statistics show that dropouts are more likely to be unemployed and on public assistance programs. For those with a job, dropouts are much more likely to work at low-paying, unskilled jobs that offer little opportunity for upward mobility. Indeed, today most jobs that pay a living wage require an education beyond high school and so, on average, high school dropouts make about $260,000 less over their lifetime than those with a high school diploma. Unfortunately, there is also a relationship between dropouts and prison; one estimate states that about two-thirds of all prisoners are high school dropouts.
The large number of dropouts in America's school system is also troubling in terms of America's position in the global economy. The globalization of the marketplace has altered the way the U.S. and other countries have to compete for business.
With the rapid development of the global marketplace, the United States is no longer the dominant country in the world economy. And in this economy, one of the major competitive advantages we have in America is our advantage in education. We certainly can't compete with other countries with lower wages when many around the world may work for a few dollars or even pennies a day.
Nor can we compete in terms of location. Products can be made anywhere and shipped to customers anywhere else overnight. The technology of today — fax machines, cell phones, Blackberries and wireless internet — allows any worker who can work across the hall to work across the globe.
One of the main reasons businesses still want to be located in America is because we have well-educated workers. Because of this need for well-educated workers to keep our country competitive, we can't allow — or afford for — people to drop out and not reach their full potential.
To address this crisis, I have introduced the Every Student Counts Act to hold high schools accountable for America's dropout crisis. The legislation builds on the National Governors Association's Graduation Rate Compact, which was signed by all 50 of the nation's governors in 2005. It would ensure that schools are held accountable for graduating students by creating a single, accurate and consistent measurement for reporting and accountability of high school graduation rates. The Every Student Counts Act would require high schools to increase their graduation rates by meeting annual, research-based benchmarks with the long-term goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate. The bill would also require the desegregation of graduation data to ensure that schools are held accountable for increasing the graduation rate for all types of students. Finally, the bill would give schools credit for graduating students who need extra time by allowing students who graduate in five years to count toward a school's successful graduation rates.
With this bill, we can make great strides toward graduating more of America's students and preparing them to succeed in college and in life. In the coming weeks, as we consider No Child Left Behind, we will also be addressing the school dropout crisis in America.
U. S. Rep. Bobby Scott is a Democrat from Virginia.