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NCTE Position Statement

Resolution on Increasing Secondary School Graduation Rates

2006 NCTE Annual Business Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee

Background

According to Lehr (2004), every 9 seconds a student in America becomes a dropout. A significantly high percentage of students who are disproportionately poor and of color disappears from the educational system before graduating from high school. Nationally, only about 68 percent of all students who enter 9th grade will graduate as scheduled with regular academic diplomas by the 12th grade (Orfield, 2004; Renzuli, 2002). While the graduation rate for White students is 75 percent, only approximately half of African American, Latina/Latino, and Native American students earn regular diplomas alongside their peers (Losen, 2006). According to the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (2005), the dropout rate for Asian Americans may be underestimated due to the limitations of tracking students and incomplete or inaccurate reporting. Overall, the public remains largely unaware of the crisis in our schools and communities due to misleading, inaccurate reports of graduation rates and confusing data linked to high-stakes accountability testing.

Research has shown that multiple factors are associated with dropping out and that dropping out of school is a long-term process of disengagement that occurs over time and begins in the earliest grades (NCES, 2003). The National Center for Education Statistics and private research organizations have identified two types of factors related to dropping out: 1) those associated with families, and 2) those related to an individual's experience in school. A recent study by McNeil and Coppola (2006) on secondary school dropouts and policy development reveals, "Another possible cause of dropouts that intersects with the accountability system is that, where students must pass tests to graduate and schools must incrementally increase scores, there is a built-in incentive to let the most struggling students quietly exit the system" (682).

The most current research and ethnographic interviews reveal that factors such as low academic grades, excessive absenteeism, disciplinary problems, frequently changing schools, and being retained for one or more grade levels, are all found at a much higher than average rate among students who drop out (Bridgeland, 2006; GAO, 2002). At the same time, student-based ethnographic interviews reveal that young adults are alienated by secondary schooling that limits their experience to rote learning, multiple-choice assessments, "banking systems" of knowledge, and low expectations. In the age of high-stakes accountability testing, Valenzuela (2004) explains, "Rather than providing children with an empowering sense of how their lives can connect productively to the world that they inhabit, a test-centric curriculum compelled by the long arm of the state through standardized, high-stakes testing reduces children's worth to their test scores" (4). In contrast, students are more likely to stay in school when their cultures are respected and their out-of-school lives and interests are reflected in the curriculum. In 2003, NCTE reaffirmed its commitment to the "Students' Right to Their Own Language" (CCCC, 1974). Students also are more likely to stay in school when expert teachers actively engage them in learning.

Increasing the graduation rate of secondary students benefits our country's future by providing a more educated and diverse citizenry. Moreover, an educated citizenry positively affects the local economy and increases human capital and opportunities. We must act to ensure that more students are not left behind. Be it therefore

Resolution

Resolved, in light of recent efforts to increase the graduation rates of secondary students, that the National Council of Teachers of English continue to affirm

  • students' right to their own language;
  • students' right to culturally responsive curriculum;
  • students' right to professional and engaging teachers;
  • students' rights to teachers who care deeply about their learning; and

be it also resolved that NCTE

  • work collaboratively with school districts, families, communities, and teachers to create solutions to low secondary school graduation rates;
  • advocate for all students' access to a rigorous, engaging curriculum and the support necessary to achieve academic success and to graduate;
  • promote the development of materials and programs that help underserved students achieve academic literacy; and
  • recognize and support the professional contributions and continuing development of secondary school teachers, particularly those working with students in danger of not graduating.

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