In the United States, it's harder to rise than to fall

Do you believe in equality?

Not that we are all born equal — of course we’re not. Some are taller. Some are smarter. Some are more attractive. Some have talents and abilities the rest of us can only dream about.

But do you believe our society should give everyone about an equal chance of rising or falling on his or her own merits?

Sure you do. We all do.

But that’s not the world we live in.

A new paper by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, both of the Brookings Institution, includes a rather startling observation. As The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien summarizes: “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong.”

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Courtesy of confusion, here are two lessons for evaluating graduation rate data

The graduation rate in Newark, Ohio, is down. On further reflection, though, it’s up — but not as much as school officials first believed.

Confused yet? So are the leaders at Newark City Schools, where the graduation rate, as tabulated by the Ohio Department of Education, dropped 10 percentage points — from 86 to 76 percent — last year, according to the Newark Advocate.  

That defies both regional and national trends. Ohio’s grad rate has climbed steadily upward over recent years as part of a rising tide that has education leaders seriously suggesting the United States might reach a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020.

So what happened?

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Victory in Victoria: More than 300 out-of-school youth are back

No stone goes unturned. 

That's the guiding principle behind Operation I'm Back, a recovery initiative aimed at young men and women who have left school before earning a diploma in Victoria, Texas.

"Calls are made locally, statewide and nationally in an attempt to speak to the student, parent, relatives, friends, employer or new school personnel," Victoria School District communications director Diane Boyett writes in the Victoria Advocate. "Searches are conducted via the Internet. Visits are made to homes and places of employment during the day and if attempts to locate are unsuccessful, they visit after hours and on weekends."

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Five ways to prevent complacency in the fight to end the dropout epidemic

OK, call us paranoid if you'd like. It's probably a fair accusation. 

But every time we see news like this, the same thought hits us: "Oh great. Here's where complacency sets in."

It's not that we don't want to celebrate the amazing achievements that have been made, over the past decade, in raising the nation's high school graduation rate. We most certainly do — and newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, showing more students are staying in school through graduation than ever before, is absolutely great news.

The problem is that we're still so very, very far away from anything resembling a reasonable graduation rate, let alone a good solution to what to do to help an estimated 35 million Americans who are already high school dropouts and have exceptionally limited opportunities to change that fact.

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Call it rigor mortis: Increased standards aren't likely a death sentence for grad rates

Unless you’ve been living in under a rock, which is under a bush, which is under a tree, which is inside a forest in a faraway land, you know that the Common Core State Standards — once so seemingly commonsensical that 46 states and the District of Columbia adopted them with little fanfare or debate — are under attack.

Some of the criticism is reasonable. Some of it isn’t. We’ll refrain from taking a hard position on which is which for the moment. It’s fair to say, though, that opponents of the Common Core have jumped on just about every opportunity to eviscerate the standards. And that’s what makes the recent attention to data in a 2013 report by the Carnegie Corporation so very interesting.

For some reason, opponents of the standards largely failed to jump on one of the report’s seemingly damning conclusions — that without additional interventions the standards could significantly impact graduation rates in a negative way.

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I asked for my district's disciplinary data. What I learned shocked me.

A month ago, as the cable network FXX began a 24-7 marathon of The Simpsons, I noted that much of the mischief young Bart atones for in the show’s title sequence would result in suspensions or expulsions for students in the real world — and especially for students of color.

Research shows minority students face more harsh discipline than their white counterparts — even for non-violent infractions of school rules. And Attorney General Eric Holder has called for school districts to examine this issue and address it.

Many haven’t, though.  

“Is this happening in your school district?” I asked in my Aug. 21 post. “There is an easy way to find out — and to do something about it. Simply ask your school board to ask for a review of suspension and expulsions, inclusive of any data the district maintains on race, gender and economic status, and then ask the board for a thoughtful consideration of what can be done to ensure equity for all students.”

Then I took my own advice. In an email to my local school board member, I asked if the board had reviewed the district’s suspension and expulsion data relative to the race, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic statuses of its students.

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Two things you can do — today — to help teen mothers graduate high school

Just 40 percent of teenage mothers finish high school, and only 2 percent of young women who had a child before age 18 earn a college degree by age 30.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the right combination of flexibility and support, young mothers can survive and thrive in high school and beyond.

On Monday, Oct. 27 at 12 p.m. Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern, Graduation Alliance will host a webinar with Juliann Galmarini Mangino, PhD, the author of Voices of Teen Mothers: Their Challenges, Support Systems, and Successes, and Graduation Alliance program principal Deborah O’Brien. They’ll discuss what can be done to help ensure teen moms in your district have every opportunity possible to earn a diploma and move onward to college and career training.

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No room for debate: Fight to get more students to graduation is still a crisis

Returning to a subject he first addressed in The Huffington Post  back in April, Virginia Union University’s Matthew Lynch asked once again on EdWeek, this week, whether the nation’s dropout rate is “really a crisis.”

If you’re familiar with Dr. Lynch’s work — he’s a passionate advocate for equity in education — you know the question is largely rhetorical. There’s no question whatsoever that the ever-rising number of Americans without a high school diploma amounts to a crisis.

In fact, there’s really no question that it’s more than a crisis.

If hundreds of thousands of young men and women were stricken each year with a disease that had the same impact on their life outcomes as leaving school before earning a diploma (reduced earnings potential, increased incarceration rates, increased crime victimhood and decreased life expectancy, among other symptoms) we wouldn’t just call it a crisis — we’d call it an epidemic and stop at nothing to end it.

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Why we can't measure dropout recovery students the same way as we measure others

Two credits.

That’s just a third of what students in most traditional high schools need to earn each year to stay on track for graduation — and it’s what participants in most of the dropout recovery programs in Duval County, Florida, earned over the past year.

In a Duval County School Board meeting on Tuesday, board chair Becki Couch said the district “should be appalled by these numbers," according to a report from WJCT

That’s a reaction that reflects a common misunderstanding of what dropout recovery is and what it can achieve.

Among the incredibly diverse population of young men and women who have left school without a diploma there are certainly some — though likely a very small number — who can recovery credits just as quickly as students who have never left school and always stayed on track for graduation. There are others, though, for whom even earning two credits per year would be a significant accomplishment.

Here’s why:

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In fans' reaction to a player's downfall, a lesson in compassion for us all

The laughter came first.

In Utah the intercollegiate rivalry known as “The Holy War” is as bitterly cold as a February morning on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. So when Brigham Young University’s former star quarterback — who once infamously ranted that he “hates” everything about “classless” University of Utah fans — recently found himself arrested for drugs and petty theft, opposing fans reveled in the comeuppance.

Then, almost as fast in response, came the effusive compassion.

Max Hall was sick, BYU fans said. He was troubled. He was battling demons. Perhaps he was wrestling with the depression that sometimes comes to athletes when sports dreams don’t come true. Maybe he was self-medicating, as so many athletes do, for chronic pain. Some BYU fans even suggested taking up a collection to help defray the former NFL quarterback’s legal bills.

These diametric reactions spoke volumes about a society that rarely passes up the opportunity to kick folks when they’re down, but one that can also be abundant in its sympathy — for the right kind of victim.

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