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Building a Grad Nation

by Patrick A. Corvington

On Wednesday, I was on hand for the release of an important report that shows our nation is making progress on increasing high school graduation rates, but we have much further to go and must accelerate our efforts.

America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center released the report, Building a Grad Nation. It highlights some positive signs that our efforts toward making education relevant for all students are working. The U.S. graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008, and the number of schools where 40 percent or more of the students do not graduate fell by 13 percent during the same period.

The main message of the report is that smart and sustained efforts transform schools and keep students engaged in learning until they leave with a diploma in hand. It is possible to ensure all children graduate because we know which students are unlikely to complete their education and we have the strategies that help them stay on track.

But with one in four U.S. public school students still dropping out - including close to 40 percent of minority students we have a long road ahead, and tackling this challenge must remain an urgent national priority. There is nothing more critical than making sure every school in every community delivers every young person the knowledge, passion and skills to enjoy lives of meaning, to fulfill their potential, and to compete in the global economy.

The report calls for a ‘Civic Marshall Plan’ to meet the goal set by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this year to increase the U.S. graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. The plan outlines the benchmarks to ensure the attainment of those goals, and focuses on bringing dedicated people to help school districts and states accelerate improvement. National service in all its forms is a critical part of the strategy spelled out in the report.

Every day, in classrooms across America, participants in national service programs are advancing educational engagement and achievement through teaching, tutoring, mentoring, counseling, running after-school programs, and empowering students to solve problems and boost their own educational advancement through service-learning.

We are proud to support some of the organizations who are leading the charge on education reform and achieving results through a variety of effective and scalable education practices including service-learning, charter schools, parent involvement programs, college preparation, pre-school enrichment, childhood literacy, and early warning and intervention systems.

With direction from the Serve America Act, we are making education a Focus Area of our five year Strategic Plan; and it is one of the top priorities for the 2011 AmeriCorps grant competition. We are working with the Department of Education and other partners to develop additional strategies to improve the schools most in need, and taking steps through all our core programs to expand our focus on education success.

You can read the report here. I encourage you to review it and share it. The data in it, the promising practices identified, and the call for intensified action are all important to the efforts that we and so many of our colleagues and partners in the field are making.

Patrick A. Corvington is the CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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