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Improving Secondary and Postsecondary Graduation Rates

Among the consequences of our education system’s failure to reach all learners is a higher dropout rate than in other developed countries. Overall, 24% of young people in the United States drop out of high school (OECD, 2007), but the dropout rate for Latino and African American students is nearly 50% (Orfield, Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004).

The long-term impact of both high school and college dropout rates on our society is catastrophic, both in terms of the success prospects of individuals in life and work and for our nation’s ability to compete in a global economy (McKinsey & Company, 2009).

Most students report that dropping out of school is a gradual process of disengagement that can be reversed with more relevant learning experiences and social and emotional interactions at school. Technology-based programs and resources, including online learning, tutoring and mentoring, and social networks and participatory communities within and across educational institutions, can provide both. They can also give students guidance and information about their own learning progress and opportunities for the future. Specifically, students need to know what is expected of them as they move from middle school to high school and from high school to postsecondary education.

Secondary and postsecondary institutions should work separately and together to support at-risk students in all phases of their education. This support should start early in students’ educational career and intensify if they need it.

Enabling All Learners to Excel in STEM

The state of science and engineering in the United States is strong, but U.S. dominance worldwide has eroded significantly in recent years, primarily because of rapidly increasing capability in East Asian nations, particularly China (National Science Board, 2010). In addition, new data show that U.S. 15-year-olds are losing ground in science and math achievement compared with their peers around the world (McKinsey & Company, 2009).

In November 2009, President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in STEM with the goal of enabling all learners to excel in STEM. In January 2010, the President announced a new set of public-private partnerships committing $250 million in private resources to attract, develop, reward, and retain STEM educators.

In addition, the NSF through its cyberlearning task force initiatives and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is recommending research and development to guide the restructuring of STEM domains for more effective learning with technology.

Whereas technology has dramatically changed how students learn in all disciplines, perhaps nowhere are its effects more profound than in STEM subjects. New technologies for representing, manipulating, and communicating information and ideas have changed professional practices and what students need to learn to be prepared for STEM professions. In particular, technology can be used to support student interaction with STEM content in ways that promote deeper understanding of complex ideas, engage students in solving complex problems, and create new opportunities for STEM learning at all levels of our education system.

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