Thirty years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a dire warning in their landmark report. A rising tide of educational mediocrity had made American a nation at risk.

Today, as we compete in a thoroughly globalized economy, the stakes are even higher than they were in 1983.

Fortunately, we have made real progress, especially in the past decade. Between 1999 and 2011 (the most recent year for which federal longterm trend data are available), The national graduation rate rose from 69 percent to 78.2 percent. Most of that increase has occurred since 2006–including dramatic improvements in some cities and states where many had believed the dropout problem was intractable.

Much has changed even since the first edition of this guidebook appeared in 2009. America’s Promise Alliance, in partnership with Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, and the Alliance for Excellent Education, launched the Grad Nation campaign in 2010 to address the high school graduation challenge with a united front and aligned resources. This effort brings together leading educator, non-profits, community organization, business, and policymakers at the local, states, and federal level, to work towards two goals crucial to the country’s future:

  • A 90 percent national high school graduation rate for the Class of 2020
  • The highest college attainment rates in the world, with at least 6 in 10 students earning a college degree by 2025

During the launch of the campaign, education leader developed the Civic Marshall Plan to Build a GradNation, a solutions-oriented plan of action to guide the campaign’s work. The Building a Grad Nation Annual Updates, released at summit each spring, illustrate the progress our nation has made towards ending America’s dropout crisis and document the remaining challenges. The updates provide the latest data on graduation rates, dropout factory trends, as well as examples of success at school, community, district, and state level.

Now, for the first time, we are on track to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate by the end of this decade.

Yet we know we must do much more, and faster. At a time when a high school diploma is not the finish line in the race for personal success, but only the starting line, one in five American students still fail to graduate with their class. And too many of those who do graduate lack the skills required for post-secondary education and the workforce.

We also know that school cannot do it alone. Many of the factors that correlate with success in school lie beyond the hours and walls of schools.  The need to correlate a wide range of opportunities is at the heart of the research-tested Five Promises framework, which has identified fundament resources that children need to thrive: caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others.

For the reason, the essential work of building a GradNation occurs in communities. It requires abroad, sustained effort from multiple sectors. It will take all of us, working together on behalf of the children, not just those in our own schools or neighborhoods.

Your work will benefit from lesson learned during the past 20 years- a time of innovation and incubation in states, districts and individual schools. We have accelerated the use of good data. We have come to understand what work. We know where to channel our efforts as we have seen in increasing examples of success.

In addition, we are able to build on the awareness and momentum generated through more than 100 Dropout Prevention Summits convened by America’s Promise Alliance in all 50 states, momentum that will only continue as many of the theme from the guidebook are further explored in future GradNation Community Summits. Today, more Americans are motivated and mobilized to work together locally to address a challenge whose implications for our future they increasingly understand.

This guidebook will help your community build and sustain the kind of collaborative, multidimensional effort it takes to improve graduation rates and prepare students to succeed after high school.

The guidebook captures the knowledge and experience of three leading national organization with different areas of expertise: America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University. In addition, it reflects the expertise and experience of communities throughout the country.

In addition, the fact that the guidebook is now online means that you can use the tools more widely and more effectively throughout your community. We will also update it more frequently with new, valuable resources.

Thank you for becoming part of this critical nationwide initiative. Together, we can help America become a GradNation — and ensure our common future as great a nation.


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