US Graduation Rates. A Problem for Learning Professionals?

Education Week has just come out with a new report (dated 2006), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showing that only 69.6% of U. S. children graduate from high school.

Yes, you should read that again. It is stunning that in the richest, most powerful country in the world, that we are failing so many of our citizens. I can only think that if the trend continues, the United States is doomed to second-tier status.

Here is a graph from the PowerPoint’s used to communicate the report:

National_graduation_rates_jpeg_6Looking at the rate by state is interesting as well. And, for you political junkies, you may get a real tingle by noticing the colors used on the map.


Chief Learning Officers providing advice on company location and recruitment strategies might want to take this into account. On the other hand, pretty pictures only tell part of the story. See below:


Comparisons to Other Countries

As Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist, pointed out in a recent column, other countries, notably China, are rapidly improving their educational systems, and their children are significantly outperforming U. S. children in K-12 education.

You can access Kristof’s article here, but you have to be subscribed to the New York Times to read it (which isn’t a bad idea), so I offer the following excerpt from his column:

Last month, the Asia Society published an excellent report, "Math and Science Education in a Global Age: What the U.S. Can Learn from China." It notes that China educates 20 percent of the world’s students with 2 percent of the world’s education resources. And the report finds many potential lessons in China’s rigorous math and science programs.

Yet, there isn’t any magic to it. One reason Chinese students learn more math and science than Americans is that they work harder at it. They spend twice as many hours studying, in school and out, as Americans.

Chinese students, for example, must do several hours of homework each day during their summer vacation, which lasts just two months. In contrast, American students have to spend each September relearning what they forgot over the summer.

China’s government has developed a solid national curriculum, so that nearly all high school students study advanced biology and calculus. In contrast, only 13 percent of American high school pupils study calculus, and fewer than 18 percent take advanced biology.

What You Can Do as a U. S. Training and Development Professional

  1. You’ve probably already heard about the massive talent gap (based largely on baby-boomer retirements) that is coming. Combine that with the aforementioned information about graduation rates, and you should start panicking.
  2. Figure out how to do remedial education.
  3. Figure out how to hire non-Americans as well as Americans.
  4. Start advocating within your company for an organizational commitment to your local K-12 educational institutions.
  5. Start with your own kids. Throw away their TV’s and get them reading more and thinking more. Don’t assume web-surfing is learning.
  6. Take a vacation day and volunteer in your kid’s classroom.
  7. Become a big brother or big sister.
  8. Volunteer in your local schools. Take your experience as an instructional professional, and share what you know. Don’t be heavy handed, be heavy on love and empathy.
  9. Stop fighting local property taxes. School funding does matter.
  10. Advocate for smaller class sizes.
  11. Insist on excellent teaching.
  12. Run for school board. Take inspiration from Marc Rosenberg, e-learning guru, who ran for his local school board because he knows the value of good learning.

A 69.6% high-school graduation rate is simply unacceptable and unsustainable. This is not only bad for our global and corporate competitiveness, it’s bad for our democracy as well. Democracies only flourish when their citizens have access to information and know how to think about that information when they have it.

What the hell are we thinking?

Or more realistically, what the hell have we been thinking?