As I was reviewing materials for my first interview with the Kentucky Board of Education, one of the things to impress me about Kentucky was the state graduation rate. Graduation rate is the ultimate measure of our success as a state education system. The school board and community in my previous position had made graduation rate the key strategic goal. The graduation rate in my previous position had improved from one of the lowest in the state (below 60 percent) to one of the top ten in the state (81 percent). Also, the gaps between different student groups had been reduced to single digits.
While I was impressed with the Kentucky graduation rate of more than 83 percent, I did learn that Kentucky had not yet reported the NCLB four-year graduation rate due to technical issues. We are scheduled to report this data with this year’s entering freshman class when that group graduates in 2013.
Upon digging into the data, I learned that Kentucky had more than 6,500 students drop out of school in the 2007-08 school year. These numbers reflect real children and reflect a real concern for the economic, social, moral and civil rights impact that high school dropouts will have on our Commonwealth.
Thanks to First Lady Jane Beshear, we are going to focus on this issue in Kentucky. While we have made good progress in improving the number of high school graduates, we cannot accept 6,500 students dropping out of school. Beginning with the Graduation Summit this weekend and the Graduate Kentucky efforts that will follow, I am certain local communities and schools will rally around the goal of reducing dropout numbers and increasing graduation rates.
There are some that will focus on the numbers and debate the accuracy of those numbers. We do need to ensure we are reporting accurately; however, we need to focus on the children and what we as adults can do to help more children graduate from high school and be prepared for postsecondary work.
The biggest challenge to overcome is the excuse that some children cannot learn due to their economic and social conditions. We must raise our expectations for all children to be successful, and we must focus our schools and classrooms on what the children need rather than what the adults may prefer. This is difficult work; however, it is work we must do to ensure a future for our community, our state and our nation.
There are schools all over Kentucky that are defying the odds and helping more children learn. I recently visited Calloway County High School, where the principal and staff make student involvement and success the number-one priority. The dropout rate there is well below state and national averages.
There are many other schools that are doing this kind of great work. Let’s share our best practices with each other, work together to lower the dropout rates in all of our schools and send forward high school graduates who are ready to lead and solve the problems that we have left behind.