Opinion

The tragedy of our near-million high school dropout rate, and how to end it

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A high school graduate raises his diploma in celebration as he walks back to his seat during a commencement ceremony Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Pittston, Pa.

A high school graduate raises his diploma in celebration as he walks back to his seat during a commencement ceremony Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Pittston, Pa.

America’s high school graduation rate has recently risen to record highs, but it’s still not high enough.

Every student who fails to complete high school faces a life of fewer opportunities and lower earning potential.

Sadly, nearly one million students each year are consigned to this fate, with dropout rates among black and Hispanic students higher than among white students.

Related: The high school graduation rates for every school district in one map

We should be doing everything we can to ensure that every student earns a high school diploma.

That includes setting aside the notion that the traditional high school model works for every student.

Students learn in many different ways, and by the time they’re in high school, teenagers are developing their own passions and interests that will shape how they view school and how they prepare for life.

Related: A low-income high school where 100 percent of black male students graduate

In a world of seemingly limitless choices, it doesn’t make sense to try to force all students into the same academic box.

Charter schools are breaking out of the box and helping more students graduate from high school by offering a variety of school models that appeal to different students’ (and parents’) needs.

What these schools have in common is a focus on high standards and an unrelenting belief – constantly communicated to students – that everybody is capable of graduating from high school and going to college.

Related: Even vocational high schools are pushing kids to go to college

But with innovation, flexibility, and autonomy, charter high schools are each able to set their own curriculum, teaching methods, cultural attributes, and other factors that shape their success.

The NYOS (Not Your Ordinary School) Charter School — serving elementary through high school students—was opened by a group of parents dedicated to educating the whole student through rigorous academics, innovative teaching and learning strategies, and expectations for civic engagement.

From the Peer Assisted Learning peer tutoring program, to electing a student representative to their school board and involving students in the faculty hiring process, adults at NYOS join with students to build an atmosphere of respect and engagement.

Related: Teen pregnancy is still a problem, school districts just stopped paying attentionI

In Hyannis, Massachusetts, Sturgis Charter Public School embraces a “Rigorous International Baccalaureate for All” philosophy.

A college-level liberal arts curriculum is provided to all Sturgis high school students, regardless of their test scores or status as an English learner or special needs student.

And students rise to the challenge: during the past four years, every Sturgis junior and senior—including all students with special needs—passed at least one IB exam.

Related: What’s the point of high school in a small fishing town?

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women was founded with a simple goal: to give public school students the same quality education and opportunities as their peers in private schools.

The school’s all-girls environment prepares the young women of Baltimore for success in college and life through a strong school culture and innovative teaching practices.

BLSYW cultivates strong habits of mind and a sense of community by educating the whole young woman—emotionally, physically, and academically.

Related: How some high schools are closing the income gap among graduates

Its college preparatory model emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics; fields in which women are underrepresented.

America’s largest network of charter schools, KIPP, an acronym for the Knowledge is Power Program, focuses on both the academic and the non-academic skills students need to finish high school and succeed in college.

The “KIPP Through College” program seeks to eliminate the opportunity gap for low-income students through rigorous academics and the development of character strengths, such as grit and self-control, that help students persist through and conquer academic and personal challenges.

Related: These schools graduate English learners at a rate nearly 75 percent higher than other schools, what are they doing right?

Each of these charter high schools is creating a unique learning environment for students.

No single charter school will be right for every child, but the proliferation of high-quality school options gives more students the opportunity to find a path to lifelong success. Supporting innovation, flexibility, and autonomy in education is vital to helping every young American become a high school graduate.

Nina Rees is the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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