Every 26 seconds, another American student drops out of high school; that's 1.2 million adolescents every year. Moreover, too few students who graduate do so within four years. Nearly one-third of all public school students fail to graduate with their class. In Indiana, nearly one-quarter do not graduate in four years.
This is a problem we should not be facing in the 21st century. At a time when post-secondary training, either college or trade/technical school, is considered essential to achieving any level of success or stability, it is unfathomable to think so many students are failing to graduate from high school.
The statistics paint a grim outlook for dropouts. They are twice as likely to live in poverty, three times more likely to be unemployed and eight times more likely to be in jail or prison than graduates. In fact, 75 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts.
Increasing Indiana's graduation rate is one of the Department of Education's highest priorities. Our vision is to make sure 90 percent of students graduate by 2012, and we're taking steps to make sure this vision becomes reality. Last week, we held the Indiana Dropout Prevention Summit.
This summit was unlike anything that's ever been done in Indiana or nationwide. We brought in teams of educators, parents, business leaders and community partners from every Indiana county to discuss the dropout epidemic, learn about current initiatives and — most important — create an action plan for the students in their counties.
Students drop out for many reasons. Research shows some students see no relation between their classes and real life. Some identify “failing in school” as a major factor for dropping out. Many cite personal reasons.
Our challenge is to develop programs and reforms comprehensive enough to address all these reasons and more. There will be no quick cure; we will only be successful if schools, families and communities are committed equally to supporting student success.
Since I took office in January, the Indiana Department of Education has instituted reforms and programs impacting graduation rates directly and indirectly. Most notably, we announced the Graduation Rate Performance Program to reward teachers and principals whose guidance results in more students graduating. This is just the beginning.
Two-thirds of dropouts say they would have worked harder to graduate if more had been expected of them. Clearly, we must not accept excuses for failure. All students — regardless of their challenges or background — are capable of earning a high school diploma. With our nationally recognized academic standards, Indiana is raising the bar for every student. Looking ahead, we will continue to encourage constant growth from every student.
Early intervention is critical if we hope to catch struggling students before it's too late. We need to encourage targeted, individualized improvement plans for these students, and we must give teachers the tools and professional development they need to create and implement these plans. Another aspect of individualizing student support is creating an array of pathways to the same end goal: high school graduation.
We need to create greater freedom and flexibility for teachers and schools. Parents also need more flexibility to choose the school that best meets their child's needs. IDOE's proposed licensing revisions would help by eliminating bureaucratic red tape and empowering school leaders to make the best decisions for their students. We're also encouraging schools to adopt new models, such as New Tech, that use 21st-century technology to make teaching more project-based and meaningful for students.
Finally, our efforts to increase Indiana's graduation rate must focus on putting a human face on the dire statistics. We must put a focus on caring student-adult relationships. Adults can provide the guidance, the attention and the positive example necessary to keep students from dropping out.
Today's students have no hope for success without a high school diploma. Regardless of their career plans, ensuring students graduate is the very least we can do to make sure they are prepared to confront the challenges of today's complex economy and work force.