It’s only incremental progress, but it is worth noting the quite measurable bump (almost 3%) that has taken place in the most recent data on American high school graduation rates . The data are from 2009-10 so there may even be grounds for hoping that the actual rate is now even higher. This is from the story in Education Week:
“The new NCES report reflects the best performance in decades by high school students. It is the highest graduation rate since 1969-70 , when the figure was 78.7 percent. Since 1972, when the dropout rate was 14.6 percent, it has steadily improved, falling to 11 percent in 1992 and 3.4 percent for the class of 2010.
There were 38 states with an increase of one percentage point or more, in the most recent analysis. Overall, 3.1 million students received a diploma in 2009-10, the report, ‘Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2009-10′  finds.”
Does this mean that the problem has been addressed or that we now know the solution to all of our public education challenges? Of course not. We obviously have a long way to go and can readily surmise that the recent progress is the result of dozens of factors — some related to school policies and some not.
But it also seems safe to draw a couple of additional conclusions from the new data:
#1 – The public schools, for all of their imperfections, are not “broken” as so many on the right allege and, indeed, seem to wish to be true. A majority work pretty darn well — especially where they are adequately resourced and not populated exclusively with impoverished children lacking basic human supports (i.e. adequate food, sleep, safety and supervision). We do not need to tear our school systems down or sell them off to private interests.
#2 – We can make a difference through intentional public action. The nation is awash in plans and programs to improve school performance and there is no doubt that many work and many don’t. But it is also undeniable that the ongoing blitz of public attention on the issue — from parents, educators, politicians, researchers, journalists and others — has, over time, made a difference. Over the past decade or so, the impact of, for lack of a better phrase, “people raising hell about the issue,” has had a positive impact.
Now, if we can just keep up the good work without trashing the whole system, we might just get somewhere.