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High School Drop-out Rates Rise

While the drop-out rate of high school students increases, experts struggle to develop an accurate measure and determine why some students fail to graduate.

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    Three million high school seniors are graduating this year, but even as they march off the stage, diplomas in hand, educators are worried about the students not in this picture: the drop-outs.

    One of the main reasons teenagers give for quitting school: Their classes aren't interesting.

  • EVOYAL PROCTOR, Former Student:

    I was bored, one. And I had a lot of things going on in my life at the time, and people telling me that I wasn't going to make it and all of that, it just got to me. So I just stopped going.


    Evoyal Proctor and Isaac Love both dropped out.

  • ISAAC LOVE, Former Student:

    I was in the 11th grade at the time that I dropped out of high school to pursue employment, and I wanted a car, as, you know, the average youngster, you know, person would. And so I had gotten a job with janitorial services. And I worked, and bought me a car, earned money and bought a car.


    But after an accident on the job, Isaac found he couldn't do manual labor any longer and he didn't have the skills for an office job.

    Love and Proctor turned to a program at Catholic Community Services in Downtown Washington, D.C., that helps students get a general education degree, or GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma. Both got their GED certificates and plan on applying to college.


    I feel more confident that I can handle anything an employer would give me, as far as work assignments, and I know that now that I can learn and I can also be an achiever in the workplace, as well as in my daily life. I feel real great.


    Being an achiever is tough for high school drop-outs. They're twice as likely as graduates to slip into poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


    Is that a good option for you?


    To help keep kids in class, some school districts have created what they call alternative high schools. Schools like the Landmark Career Academy in a mall in Alexandria, Virginia, offer individualized programs and practical skills. It's part of a partnership with a nonprofit group called Communities in Schools that's helped more than one million at-risk students this year.

    JAMAL KAYANI, Student at Alternative School: You come, you walk in, you feel comfortable. Everybody kind of talks to you. You just feel like you're at home. So it's a lot — it's way more easier to get stuff done.


    Seventeen-year-old Jamal Kayani was on the brink of leaving high school after a difficult transition from middle school. At his old school, he was an average student. But at Landmark, he's excelled.

    Coming to this program was the turning point, allowing him to graduate.


    I didn't want to be another teen statistic in the drop-out rate, because I've heard and I've seen that this year the rate has gone very high up, to where kids are just dropping out and trying to get their GED.


    While experts agree the drop-out rate is a problem — the Gates Foundation called it a silent epidemic — they disagree on just how big.

    The U.S. Department of Education puts the official drop-out rate at just below 10 percent, or one out of every 10 students. But research conducted by the Manhattan Institute found that the number could be as high as one in three.

    They found a 70 percent graduation rate overall among African-Americans and Hispanics; the rates were between 53 percent and 55 percent. The difference comes in who gets counted. The Manhattan Institute compared the total number of students who enter high school with the number of students who receive diplomas four years later.

    And, yet, another set of numbers comes from studies done by the Economic Policy Institute. They estimate the overall graduation rate at 82 percent, with between 61 percent and 74 percent of minorities graduating.

    One effort to come up with an accurate number of high school drop-outs has come from the governors of all 50 states. They've pledged to work together to develop a common method for measuring the drop-out rate.