This month, thousands of families across the country will get together to celebrate a graduation. And there's a good chance that you may even see a Congressman or a Senator invited to provide inspiring words for tomorrow's leaders.
It's a joyous time and a reminder of the value we place on education. Whether it's completing elementary school or completing a Doctorate degree, commencements bring together friends and families around this time of the year.
We know this, in part, from the latest numbers from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that recently unveiled some sobering numbers concerning our country's graduation rates. According to their findings, High school graduation rates are stagnant. Unfortunately, after decades of expending considerable more resources to educating our children, millions of students enrolled in our school system will drop out of high school.
The numbers are particularly gut-wrenching when broken up by demographics. NAEP tells us that only around 68 percent of African American and Hispanic students will graduate from High School, compared to 85 percent for white students.
This is a tragedy of epic proportions considering how incredibly difficult the odds are stacked against anyone that fails to obtain a high school diploma. Scores of research papers and studies paint a grim picture of high school drop-outs including a higher likelihood of depending on the federal government for assistance, to long-bouts of unemployment and even higher rates of incarceration and imprisonment.
There are exceptions of course, but it's hard to refute the premise that obtaining a basic high school diploma is increasingly becoming a necessity - and not a choice.
And so even in this month of celebration, our enthusiasm should be tempered knowing that millions of young Americans will not walk on stage to receive their diploma. The task before us is momentous as it is vexing eluding a simple and straightforward answer to parents and policymakers alike.
There isn't a shortage of ideas on how to increase high school graduation rates, but perhaps commencements themselves may offer some insight. Consider that even in a major university with student-bodies in the tens of thousands, graduation ceremonies typically have one thing in common: the graduating student is called out by name to walk down the aisle. Time is allotted to recognize the accomplishment of the individual student.
This matters not because individualism is a virtue to be celebrated, but as a reminder that every education is different and unique. And by extension, every student is different from his/her fellow classmate. Applying this to the stagnant high school graduation rate, we ought to consider the fact that some students are more visual while others are better at retaining information by repetition. Or perhaps thanks to the advances in technology, some students may prefer making use of the latest online resources and tools.
In short, it is time for us to consider re-thinking education and educating entirely in order to improve the chances that our youngest Americans are prepared to enter today's competitive workforce.
Expanding educational choice is essentially customizing education in order to best fit the individual needs of families and students. The truth is that this is already happening from coast to coast with parents and students celebrating this freedom to choose. In fact, this year's National School Choice Week celebration was the largest with more than 5,500 events from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California and just about everywhere in between.
And yet, there are millions of students waiting for their chance to attend a school of their choice and have the opportunity to customize their education. In other words, considerable work remains - an unwelcome, but important, thought to consider at your next commencement ceremony.
Ortega is the communications director for National School Choice Week and is a former Congressional aide. He writes on education issues. @IzzyOrtega