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Those crusading against the dropout problem had reason to celebrate this week. A report released by the U.S. Department of Education, “Building a Grad Nation,” announced that the number of “dropout factories” in the country – or high schools that fail to graduate at least 60 percent of their students – continued to drop.

In 2002, there were 2,007 dropout factories. By 2008, that number was down to 1,746. And in 2009, an additional 112 schools were removed from the list, bringing the total down to 1,634.

Raising high school graduation rates has prompted sweeping reforms across the country in recent decades, including popular strategies like the promotion of small schools, the use of data to pinpoint student weaknesses and predict those most at risk of dropping out, and having private companies take over schools in “turnaround” efforts.

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Sarah Butrymowicz oversees and contributes to The Hechinger Report’s investigative and data work covering all levels of education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education. She has worked at...

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