Some secondary schools are successfully graduating their students prepared for what lies ahead -one in three high schools graduate 90 percent of their students. Unfortunately, there is a small subset of chronically underperforming high schools that are poorly serving some or all of their students and are responsible for a majority of nation's dropout crisis.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have identified approximately 2,000 high schools (about 13 percent of America's high schools) where the typical freshman class shrinks by 40 percent or more by the time the students reach their senior year. It's not surprising that these "dropout factories " serve large numbers of minority and low-income students, and have fewer resources and less-qualified teachers than schools in more affluent neighborhoods with larger numbers of white students.
The Alliance for Excellent Education maintains a database of most of the high schools in the United States that allows users to determine the promoting power for high schools in their state or congressional district. In addition, the Alliance also has created state cards for all fifty states and the District of Columbia that provide a statistical snapshot of high schools for that state. It has also created economic impact fact sheets for each state and the District of Columbia to help policymakers and the public understand the extent of the economic costs to society of an educational system that serves so many students poorly.
One of the reasons that today's high schools perform so poorly is because they still reflect the 1950's design of a large, comprehensive high schools serving as giant sorting machines for America's students: one track for those students bound for college and professional careers and another for those bound for manufacturing and agricultural jobs in the industrial economy of the time. Another reason is a lack of focus by the federal government on the particular needs of high schools.
Historically, the federal government has directed billions to improving the kindergarten and elementary grades, as well as college education. Correspondingly, our younger students have made demonstrable gains in reading and math while America's postsecondary system of colleges and universities remains the envy of the world. At the same time, federal government funding has almost ignored middle and high schools. And again results follow effort. In 2010 alone, nearly 1.3 million students left high school without a diploma—that's nearly 7,000 new high school dropouts every school day.
While annual funding for grades Pre-K-6 totals nearly $18 billion and funding for postsecondary education totals about $16 billion, the nation's secondary schools are stuck in the "missing middle." Annually, the federal contribution to grades 7-12 is only about $5 billion.