Accessibility links

Breaking News

Facing America's High Dropout Rates

Obama offers advice to the nation's students, many of whom are unlikely to complete high school or college. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Less than sixty percent of students now entering four-year American colleges are likely to graduate. The completion rate is lower than for almost any other wealthy country, and worst for poor and minority students.

A new book about America's public universities explores the complex causes of the high dropout rate. The book is called "Crossing the Finish Line."

President Obama wants the United States to again have the world's highest percentage of college graduates by two thousand twenty. But to finish college, children first have to reach the starting line by getting there.

On Tuesday the president gave a nationally broadcast speech to students about the importance of staying in school. He spoke on the first day of classes at a high school in Virginia. He talked about personal responsibility, and used himself as an example of someone who overcame difficulties.

BARACK OBAMA: "My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in."

But he told students that problems in their own lives should not stop them from learning.

BARACK OBAMA: "That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying."

This was not the first presidential speech to students. Ronald Reagan spoke from the White House in nineteen eighty-eight. And George H.W. Bush spoke from a school in Washington in nineteen ninety-one.

But many conservatives criticized plans for the speech. Some called it "socialized education" or federal interference in local schools. Others feared it would be too political. Some schools decided not to show the speech. But the White House released the text on Monday, and that calmed a lot of critics.

On Sunday, on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said thirty percent of students do not graduate from high school. He called the dropout rate "staggering." It represents more than a million students every year who entered ninth grade but did not complete twelfth grade.

The education secretary called the objections to the president's speech "silly." But he also said one of the activities suggested for students "wasn't worded quite correctly." It related to the goal of increasing college graduation rates. It suggested that students "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." But after conservatives objected, the activity was changed to writing about personal goals.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.