Imagine if we graduated 90% of Paterson kids! I had the distinct privilege of participating in the First Annual America’s Promise GradNation Summit in Washington DC last week. It was so exciting to see so many people hyped about getting all our children to graduate high school ready for college or career. The Americas Promise Alliance goal is to have a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020. The Class of 2020 needs to earn 600,000 more high school diplomas than the Class of 2008. To reach these national goals, the national graduation rate must rise by an average of 1.5 percentage points per year over the next decade. This is doable! In order to track this, every school in every district will need to use the same formula to calculate graduation. Currently districts and states decide what formula they want to use and there’s no easy way to make fair comparisons across the country. The new graduation rate formula will demand student level data for every child in every school. This means, NJ will need to step up its student level data collection with full implementation of NJ SMART. Something PEF and others have been advocating for years.

On a personal note, I’ve been engaged in the issues of education and race for many years, leading and participating in conversations on the impact of race on education. As I looked around the room of roughly 1,000 people, it struck me that this was the most diverse group of people I’d ever seen at a national conference. I’ve attended many state and national conferences over the years often wondered why I was always one of very few faces of color in the room. (Except for those organized specifically for people of color – but they weren’t diverse either.) This was not the case here. People of all colors, races and ethnic groups are engaged in leading efforts across the country to improve outcomes for all our children, and are being acknowledged for their work. Although we didn’t all agree on the methods, we all agreed that America’s future is dependent on the education of ALL children. We’ve come a long way, let’s keep moving forward.

The GradNation Summit had some very informative sessions and rich discussion about student achievement. Some benchmarks for 2010 are to substantially increase the number of struggling students reading at grade level by 5th grade; reduce chronic absenteeism; and conduct needs and capacity assessments of targeted schools. The benchmarks for 2013 include early warning and intervention systems in every targeted school district and state; re-design of middle grades as necessary to foster high student engagement and preparation for rigorous high school courses; and the placement of a trained non-profit school success mentor for every 15-20 students with off-track indicators. I also made some connections that I hope will bring some additional resources to Paterson in the near future. You can access conference materials at including videos of Joe Biden and Arne Duncan addressing the conference participants. While you’re visiting the site, sign up to join the Grad Nation movement  and be a part of this national effort to end the dropout crisis. The site has suggestions for 5 things you can do to join the movement today. I have an easy one – Come to PEF’s Graduating Every Paterson Child Conference on April 16th and join the local movement. Send me email to for more details.

See you there!