Democrat Hillary Clinton outlined her plan to cut the dropout rate in half yesterday at a campaign stop in South Carolina, an early-voting state in the presidential primary race with one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.
Sen. Clinton, of New York, has some good ideas (which I’ll get to in a minute) and is attacking a problem that is downright devastating in particular parts of the country. She announced her plan in South Carolina, which according to our latest installment of Diplomas Count (produced by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, which is affiliated with Education Week), had the worst graduation rate in the nation at 53.8 percent. Overall, this nation’s public schools failed to graduate 1.23 million students in the 2006-07 school year, according to Diplomas Count. The statistics are even more frightening in some of the country’s urban centers, such as Detroit, which had an abysmal graduation rate of 24.9 percent.
Clearly, drastic measures are called for. While it’s a lofty goal to reduce the dropout rate by half, my question for Sen. Clinton is whether she has any research to suggest that her ideas will indeed make such a dramatic dent in the problem. Are her ideas really bold enough? Can they not only improve graduation rates in the districts and states that are already doing fairly well, but also in the districts struggling the most, like Detroit, or in rural South Carolina, where many districts post graduation rates below 50 percent? She’s already proposed spending $10 billion on pre-kindergarten, which she incorporates into her dropout plan. But here are her new ideas, which carry an additional $1 billion price tag (in terms of grants to states), so you be the judge:
Create more early-colllege high schools that help students obtain a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time, and more alternative high schools;
Support the graduation rate compact the nation’s governors signed that call for every state to calculate graduation rates the same way;
Provide $500 million in financial incentives to school districts for recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. (She also makes a mention of rewarding teachers for student achievement gains—which may sound a lot like the controversial merit pay—but she attempts to allay teachers’ union fears by saying any plans would be crafted in conjunction with teachers and within existing contracts);
Provide $250 million in competitve grants to low-income communities to devise local strategies for curbing the dropout rate;
And, expand home visitation programs for mothers of newborns.