It is time to set agendas aside, place students and their success as our primary driver and invite the larger community to the table for the sake of tomorrow's economy.
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It's been said before but I'll say it again. To rebuild this economy, we need workers who have the skills needed to be productive and innovative to lead us back to prosperity. But far too many young people drop out of school before even getting the chance to work. We need a strong education system to build a strong workforce. And it can't be done alone.

That's why I'm encouraged to learn of the latest research just released by our partners, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The report, entitled "Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic," finds that progress is possible when resources and determination are applied, even in low-income, urban school districts.

  • Nationwide, the United States' graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008.
  • More than more than half of all states -- 29 in total -- increased their statewide graduation rate from 2002 to 2008.
  • The state of Tennessee and New York City led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
  • Schools that see just 60 percent or fewer students graduate -- known as "dropout factories" -- fell by 13 percent, from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008.

While these numbers show improvement, we have a long way to go to get all of our young people ready for careers. With data in hand, we can now take the next step forward.

As with any good report, many solutions are provided. But the solution that attracted me the most was the proposed Civic Marshall Plan. Much like the Marshall Plan of the 1940s-50s, this plan is designed to rebuild and create, but this plan won't be about infrastructure. It will be about young people -- the future leaders of our country who will be the foundation for a prosperous economy. This plan will require coordination at the local level, evidence-informed strategies, data, and accountability structures, and will need support at the state and national levels. In other words, it will take a full scale commitment to propel this movement forward.

The best part about this plan is that we know it can work. The National Academy Foundation has been applying the same principles in our academies for nearly 30 years. Our career academies often start with determined teachers, career and technical directors, principals, and superintendents, and then spread to local business leaders who bring even more community members on board. In 30 years, we have seen some impressive results. 90 percent of our students already graduate from high school -- a goal the Obama administration is trying to reach for all American young people by 2020. Four out of five NAF graduates go on to post-secondary education. More than half of whom, are the first in their families to go to college. Fifty-two percent of NAF graduates earn bachelor's degrees in four years, compared with 32 percent of college-goers nationally.

Teachers are not solely responsible for educating young people. It is time to set agendas aside, place students and their success as our primary driver and invite the larger community to the table for the sake of tomorrow's economy.

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