Efforts under way to stem U.S. school dropout problem

Wed Dec 2, 2009 1:28am EST
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Jesus Garcia dropped out of high school and figured he was destined for prison or a life shortened by violence -- until he found an alternative school that became the family he never felt he had.

"Without this school, kids would be dealing drugs, dying, gang-banging, all of it. Without this school there would be no leaders, no mentors," Garcia, an aspiring chef, told a group of former dropouts who have re-enrolled in alternative schools.

Some 30 percent of Americans drop out before finishing high school. They are more likely to be unemployed, receive public assistance, commit crimes and go to jail than those who graduate. They also are less healthy and have a lower life expectancy, according to research presented at a Columbia University conference.

Dropping out "is no longer an option," President Barack Obama told Congress earlier this year.

The national dropout rate has been rather stable for decades. It is 50 percent or higher at hundreds of mostly urban schools that have been dubbed "dropout factories" by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked the United States 19th among member nations in high school graduation rates, and weak U.S. public schools are now widely viewed as an impediment to economic success.

The U.S. graduation rate was a few percentage points below the OECD average. Germany ranked first and seven other nations including South Korea, Israel, Finland, and Japan graduated at least nine out of 10 students.

Companies like AT&T and groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Colin Powell's America's Promise Alliance have analyzed the problem and are funding programs believed to reinvigorate public schools.   Continued...