Yesterday, the Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing to take a look at how improving graduation rates in our nation’s high schools can help strengthen our competitiveness.  Some may think twice about using the word “crisis” to define what’s happening in our high schools. But the truth is, we aren’t just facing a crisis -- the house is on fire.

Today, only 70 percent of students graduate with a regular high school diploma. Of these students, fewer than half graduate fully prepared for college-level work or success in the workforce.  About 10 percent of high schools produce close to half of our students who drop out --so-called “dropout factories”.  These dropout factories disproportionately impact minority students, producing 69 percent of all African-American and 63 percent of all Hispanic students who drop out.

A high school dropout earns an average of $260,000 less than a high school graduate and $1 million less than a college graduate over a lifetime. Each class of high school dropouts cost the U.S. economy $309 billion in lost wages over the students’ lifetime.  It’s become increasingly clear that addressing this dropout crisis is one of the most important things we can do to turn our economy around for good.

In its current form, No Child Left Behind doesn’t do enough to turn around low-performing middle and high schools and improve our graduation rates, partly because we do not yet have common state standards.  We need to hold schools responsible for their graduation rates so they can improve student performance.  We also need to discourage schools from pushing out students who aren’t making the grade and ask schools to keep their doors open to students who leave and want to return.

I would like to thank many of my committee colleagues for their outstanding leadership on this issue, including Chairman Kildee’s Fast Track to College Act, Rep. Grijalva’s Success in the Middle Act, Rep. Hinojosa’s Graduation Promise Act, and Rep. Scott’s GRADUATES Act. Clearly there is great interest in moving forward with legislation to address this urgent problem.