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By J.B. Wogan September 20, 2012

Obama funded middle school dropout prevention

As part of his education agenda during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama outlined a plan to deal with high school dropouts by passing laws that pay for middle school interventions.

Obama used his competitive K-12 education grant program -- originally a component of his economic stimulus package -- to keep this promise. Before we explain how, let's delve into a little background about the pledge.

Even though education advocates use the phrase "dropout crisis" to refer to high school dropouts, Obama focused on middle school policies. Why?

"Students who drop out typically start on that path years before," said Joanna Fox, an education policy analyst at Johns Hopkins University's Everyone Graduates Center.

Students often have a record of misbehaving and skipping school days long before they leave on a permanent basis, Fox said.

That's probably why Obama talked about middle school intervention, even though students tend to drop out between the 8th and 9th grades.

Social scientists have two major ways of measuring high school dropouts: One is called an "event dropout rate" and the other is called the "status dropout rate." One takes a snapshot of students who dropped out in a given year; the other looks at data over a four-year span for all people old enough to be attending school, including dropouts and people who never enrolled.

Both have their limitations and the Education Department is close to having a new national method for counting dropouts that is supposed to be more accurate and useful. Nonetheless, both metrics tell a similar story: The percentage of high school students who drop out has decreased steadily in the last three decades.

The chart below shows how the two dropout rates trend downward over time, based on a report from the National Center for Education Statistics last year.

Despite the encouraging trend, about a quarter of students in the United States still don't graduate high school and the statistics for some states and some schools are much worse.

Obama tackled dropout prevention by spending roughly $50 million a year between 2010 and 2012 on the High School Graduation Initiative. This money went directly to school districts for proven dropout prevention strategies and for bringing dropouts back to school.

We examined 2010 award winners for the initiative and found school districts in Texas, New York, and Mississippi that hired coaches to bring dropouts back to both middle and high school. The money also paid for staff to counsel students in middle and high school with a pattern of truancy before they drop out.

The other way the Obama administration sought to reduce dropouts was its selection criteria for roughly $5 billion in Race to the Top competitive grants.

Originally a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus, Race to the Top received additional funding in 2010, 2011 and 2012. States with plans for increasing their graduation rates and a record of improving those rates in recent years stood a better chance of receiving money. States with plans for collecting better long-term data on dropouts could fare better in the selection process as well.

Obama said he would pass legislation to pay for dropout prevention strategies at middle schools. His economic stimulus package got the ball rolling, and he added momentum with more money and programs in later years. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Interview with Mary Bruce, education policy analyst for Civic Enterprises, Sept. 18, 2012

Interview with Joanna Fox, deputy director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, Sept. 19, 2012

Civic Enterprises, Everyone Graduates Center, America's Promise Alliance, Alliance for Excellent Education, Building a Grad Nation, March 2012

U.S. Education Department, High School Graduation Initiative also known as School Dropout Prevention Program

U.S. Education Department, National Center for Education Statistics, Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972–2009, October 2011, H.R. 3221 (111th): Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009

U.S. Education Department, Executive Summary: Race to the Top Districts, May 21, 2012

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley November 17, 2009

Grant program will encourage data collection related to dropout prevention

President Barack Obama has packed a number of his campaign promises related to education into his "Race to the Top" program, which seeks to encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning by having states compete for $4.35 billion worth of grants from the Department of Education. The program was funded through the Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February.

According to an executive summary of the Race to the Top Program, the secretary of education is particularly interested in applications that expand "statewide longitudinal data systems" to capture, analyze and use student data related to a number of programs including ... dropout prevention programs.

Competition for the "Race to the Top" grants will be conducted in two rounds -- the first starting this month and the second in June of next year -- with winners announced in April and September 2010.

There's more to this promise than just encouraging data systems that incorporate dropout prevention programs. But it's a step in the right direction. And so we move this one to In the Works.

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