Guarantee Graduation – Inform. Connect. Act.

The statistics are well known to readers of these pages: Our high schools lose more than one third of their students before graduation, and the cumulative impact of attrition affects every community. Almost half of students (48 percent) lost from school enrollment are Hispanic, close to half (43 percent) are African American, and one fifth (22 percent) are White (Johnson, 2005). Since 1986 when IDRA conducted Texas’ first comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts, Texas schools have lost more than 2 million students. That is like losing one student every four minutes.

While dropping out of school is not necessarily the end of formal education for every student, the pathway to postsecondary education and jobs is often far narrower, longer and rockier for students without a high school diploma or with a GED. While high school graduation was once optional, it is now a minimal requirement for most entry-level jobs. Overall, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2003, high school dropouts are 72 percent more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates (Lehr, 2004).

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

To address these issues, IDRA has undertaken three decades of research, program implementation and policy education to improve school success and ensure graduation for all students. IDRA’s work is based on the recognition that schools can be strengthened to ensure the success of all students and of children’s assets as a starting point for learning.

This has been demonstrated by professional development programs that help schools increase their students’ academic success. It has been borne out by IDRA’s
Coca-Cola Youth Program
, which, since its inception in 1984, has kept more than 20,000 students in school and learning, young people who were previously considered at risk of dropping out.

A new initiative, Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada, builds on this work. IDRA and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) kicked off Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada with a joint statewide summit on school holding power, convened in November. The summit brought together community members, educators, policymakers, students and business people to examine the data, build cross-sector partnerships, and identify strategic actions to address the longstanding problem of attrition. Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada focuses on three key areas:

  • Accuracy and accountability – to call for credible, accurate counts of student attrition.
  • Systems change – to promote good governance, equitable funding, curriculum alignment, and school capacity to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed.
  • Community-based actions – to reclaim and strengthen local, neighborhood public schools.

Each strategy will be informed by quality data on student outcomes and the school system factors that undergird student success.

A strong school is a dynamic and self-renewing institution that ensures the academic success and graduation of every child. Such schools emerge from and are strengthened by an informed and engaged community. A strong neighborhood public school recognizes that its viability and that of the community are inextricably linked.

What You Can Do

Get informed. Learn about dropout rates in your district or region. How are these rates calculated? For more information on the analysis and reporting of dropout data. How does attrition vary by district, campus, student gender, race, and ethnicity? What is being done to address the issue?

Find out more. Which system factors may be weakening school holding power? Is funding appropriate and equitably distributed to offer an excellent education to every student in your district? Are teachers certified and teaching in their area of expertise? What are your district’s student retention policies and practices? What is the quality and accessibility of the curriculum? Is schoolwork comprehensible to all students, no matter what first language they speak? Are students engaged in learning and academic life – do they sense that they are valued and expected to succeed? If not, what must be changed?

Get results. If attrition has persisted for many years in your district and stand-alone dropout prevention programs are the only initiatives underway, devise a plan to augment these programs with systemic changes. For a summary of the key components of school holding power, see:

Band together with others who are likely to share your concerns and can join you in initiating change. If no mechanism like a network or coalition exists in your area, consider initiating a community-school partnership to examine the problem and develop an action plan. For more information on strategies that begin in local neighborhoods, see the Holding Schools Accountable Toolkit developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation at

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]