“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” famous words from Rahm Emanuel early in the Obama Administration. Emanuel’s point was that a crisis is an opportunity to do things you thought you couldn’t do before and, at a recent education summit, Maine Governor John Baldacci quoted Emanuel in reference to our educational system, especially as it relates to high-risk minority youth.  Obviously this Administration takes this issue very seriously and by looking at the number of high level officials who participated, they more than proved that commitment.  The Departments of Labor and Education are fully committed to working with education experts and private industry to move this country’s education in the right direction.

Baldacci, board chair of Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), spoke to more than 100 representatives from government, education and corporate America who were assembled for a Thought Leader summit to address at both the state and federal level: How to take strategies proven to work for high-risk minority youth to scale through policy and funding.

The statistics are staggering:

Nearly half of all African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in public school will not graduate with their class. Among the developed countries, the U.S. ranks 18th in high school graduation rates and 15th in college graduation rates.

These statistics aren’t lost on us at AT&T.  Through AT&T Aspire, a $100 million four-year initiative focused on high school success and workforce readiness, we’re focusing efforts on addressing the dropout crisis.

Governor Baldacci highlighted this commitment in his remarks, recounting a pitch he made to AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson a few years ago for $50,000 to JAG.  According to Baldacci, he was interrupted mid-sentence by our Chairman, who added a zero to that number—committing $500,000 to JAG programs. Since then, we’ve provided a total of more than $2 million to JAG and its affiliates.

And we continue our commitment to education.  On the heels of the JAG event, AT&T released, “Raising Their Voices: Engaging Students, Teachers, and Parents to Help End the High School Dropout Epidemic,” the fourth in a series of ground-breaking studies by Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research that examines the alarming dropout rates through the eyes of dropouts, students, teachers and parents.

Raising Their Voices offers a number of recommendations on how to confront the drop out problem at the local level and demonstrates the tremendous value of engaging students, teachers, and parents in candid, face-to-face dialogues on the topic—a similar approach to the JAG summit.

Inspired by the report and building upon its own experiences of forging consensus, the National Education Association (NEA), in collaboration with AT&T, announced it is preparing to launch a series of similar dialogues in school districts across the nation to help mobilize local communities to improve graduation rates.

Through programs like JAG and Aspire, committed, thoughtful people from the public and private sectors are working together to solve this crisis.   We’re pleased to  take part in the process.

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