Press Release: What States Must do to Reduce High School Dropout Rates

Published sep. 08, 2010

BOSTON, MA (September 8, 2010) — U.S. states have taken important steps over the last decade to improve high school graduation rates and stem the dropout crisis, but according to two new reports from Jobs for the Future, they still have an enormous amount of work to do to address these problems. 

The reports—Six Pillars of Effective Dropout Prevention and Recovery and Reinventing Alternative Education—lay out model policy elements for dropout prevention and recovery as well as policies that would drive reinventing alternative education as a pathway to college for struggling students. The reports assess the extent to which recent state policy aligns with model policy elements.

“We have two populations that generally lack college-ready skills—the 1.2 million who drop out of high school each year and many more who struggle to earn a diploma with little chance of achieving more,” says Adria Steinberg, a vice president at JFF and coauthor of both reports. “Many policies concerning these programs predate the national recognition of the critical importance of a college degree for earning a family-supporting wage. These policies must change.”

Based on JFF’s extensive state-level research, the reports contain specific checklists of dropout and alternative education policies, that  states should enact in order to prevent at-risk students from dropping out, help returning dropouts recover credits, and reinvent alternative education programs as a vibrant pathway to college for struggling students.

Each state is assessed on the basis of how well its policies aligned with six dropout-related policy elements and seven alternative education policy elements.

The six dropout-related state policy elements that JFF recommends are:

  1. Raise the compulsory age to 18 and require students to stay in school until they earn a diploma
  2. Enhance data collection in counting and accounting for dropouts
  3. Help districts with low graduation rates implement far-reaching reforms
  4. Create and sustain vehicles for developing “back on track” models
  5. Include “off-track” students in strategies for accelerating high school completion and preparation for postsecondary success
  6. Provide stable funding for systemic reform

The seven alternative education policy elements that JFF recommends for states are:

  1. Broaden eligibility guidelines
  2. Clarify state and district roles and responsibilities 
  3. Strengthen accountability for results
  4. Increase support for innovation
  5. Provide staff incentives
  6. Enhance student support services
  7. Enrich funding

Highlights from the 50-state policy scans:

  • Since 2002 (when No Child Left Behind was passed), 36 states and Washington D.C. have enacted new dropout prevention and recovery policies.
  • Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas have made progress on all six of JFF’s recommended policy elements for dropout prevention and recovery.
  • Minnesota and Oklahoma have five recommended alternative education policy elements in place (no state has achieved all seven).
  • States have moved faster to identify the scope of the dropout problem than to appropriate enough money to address the crisis.
  • Recognition is growing among states that dropouts and off-track students benefit from acceleration—not remediation—in their curriculum and instruction.
  • Most state policies focus on dropout prevention rather than recovery, with only four states combining interventions for students with systemic reform (Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas).
  • Nine states enrich funding for alternative schools, providing compelling exemplars for other states (Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia Wyoming, and Washington, D.C).
  • A disturbing trend is that no state provides incentives for high-performing teachers and leaders to staff alternative schools and programs.

“Alternative Ed is often seen as a place for kids with disciplinary issues,” says Steinberg. “We need programs where these young people can prepare for college or we’ll keep resigning them to earning a diploma at best, which no longer qualifies you for most family-supporting jobs.”

See and compare each state’s policies with our interactive online maps at and

To download the two accompanying reports, visit:

About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future works with our partners to design and drive adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.
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