WASHINGTON - It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: "Dropout Factory," a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That dubious distinction applies to more than one in 10 high schools across America and all four Grand Rapids Public High Schools.
"If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?" asks Bob Balfanz, the researcher at Johns Hopkins University who defines such a school as a "dropout factory."
There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either.
While some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out, Balfanz says. The data tracked senior classes for three years in a row - 2004, 2005 and 2006 - to make sure local events like plant closures weren't to blame for the low retention rates.
The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones - the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.
MICHIGAN SCHOOLS ON LIST
Grand Rapids Central
Grand Rapids Creston
Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills
Grand Rapids Union
Communication & Media Arts
Detroit School of Industrial Arts
Weston Technical Academy. Metro Detroit suburbs: Academy for Business & Technology
Melvindale-Northern Allen Park
Van Dyke Lincoln
Wayne-Westland Wayne Memorial. Outstate: Battle Creek Central
Bay City Central
International Academy of Flint
Kalamazoo Loy Norrix
Saginaw Arthur Hill
Jackson Da Vinci Institute