Campaign 2004: Graduation Rates

Yesterday, Senator John Kerry announced a new plank of his education agenda, focusing on reducing high school drop out rates and increasing high school graduates by 1 million over the next five years. Here’s what the New York Times and LA Times have to say about it. Tomorrow, Kerry is expected to further flesh out his education agenda with proposals for teachers.

Focusing on the dropout issue is a smart strategy for Kerry. First, it’s a real problem. Dropout rates are generally substantially underreported. According to the Urban Institute, only about half of black and Hispanic students graduate from high school and only 75 percent of whites. Second, it’s an issue where President Bush has been asleep at the switch — No Child Left Behind included provisions to ensure better reporting of drop out rates but the Bush Administration has not followed through on them. Finally, it allows Kerry to talk about progressive ideas like smaller high schools and mentoring for disadvantaged middle school students while linking these issues to outputs and accountability. That keeps Kerry out of the “accountability versus spending” phony war the Bush Administration wants while allowing him to advance a progressive agenda.

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