The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Civil Rights Monitor - Volume 17, No. 1 - Winter 2007

New Civil Rights Partnership Calls Attention to Nation's High School Crisis

Ten of the nation's major civil rights and education organizations came together this year to launch the Campaign for High School Equity, a new initiative aimed at raising public awareness on the need for fundamental high school reform and providing access to quality high school education as a fundamental civil right for all children.

One-third of the nation's high school students do not graduate and the rates are even higher for students of color. In the 2002-03 school year, only 51.6 percent of black students, 47.4 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students, and 55.6 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time, according to data from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

The graduation rate among Asian and Pacific Islander students cannot be accurately determined, because current data collection methods do not distinguish by ethnic group; but evidence suggests that many of these students are experiencing similar challenges.

Taken together, the 2,000 high schools that have been identified as "dropout factories" graduate less than half of their students and account for the majority of all the dropouts in the U.S. More than 900 of the schools are concentrated in major metropolitan areas and have student bodies that are overwhelmingly low-income children of color.

The Campaign's partners include the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the NAACP, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the National Indian Education Association, the National Urban League, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Announcing the launch of the Campaign, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President and CEO Wade Henderson said, "We cannot continue to provide the least education to the most rapidly growing segments of society at exactly the moment when the economy will need them the most. When 21st century jobs require a science education, for how long will we continue to be the land of opportunity if we tolerate an opportunity gap where racial, economic, and linguistic disparities combine to make white students more than four times as likely as African-American and Latino students to have access to Advanced Placement science classes?"

Early grade investments are paying dividends for younger students, in the form of improved reading and math scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress; but these gains are not being realized by older students, according to the Campaign.

Much of the early grade effort may be lost as students move into under-resourced, poorly designed high schools that are not preparing them for success in college, work, or citizenship.

With national attention finally focusing on the crisis in American high schools, the partners in the Campaign believe that coordinated efforts within the civil rights community can greatly impact public attitudes and national policy to not only reduce the dropout rate afflicting minority communities, but to simultaneously raise the standards for high school graduation to levels reflecting the real needs of the 21st century work and life.

While the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides federal assistance to students at all public school levels, for a variety of reasons, high schools receive the least. The initiative will call for federal leadership in establishing greater high school assistance in the ESEA.

Emphasizing that it's not too late to invest in the development of students once they reach high school, the Campaign's inaugural publication, "A Plan for Success: Communities of Color Define Policy Priorities for High School Reform," provides a blueprint for meaningful reform. Among its recommendations:

  • Make all students proficient and prepared for college and work;
  • Hold high schools accountable for student success;
  • Redesign the American high school;
  • Provide students with the excellent leaders and teachers they need to succeed; and
  • Invest communities in student success.

For more information about the Campaign for High School Equity, or to download a copy of "A Plan for Success," please visit: http://www.highschoolequity.org.

The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives

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