By John Gomperts
The desire to create change is written into our DNA as Americans. The United States was founded and built by people who sought change and dreamt forward. That foundation drives us to continue to ask the important questions: What is real change? How do you make it last? Or in the case of America’s Promise Alliance, how do we empower and inspire others to be a part of it?
When I look over Community Wealth Partner’s 10 insights on transformational change I’m struck by how timeless they are. Each one has defined a part of the work of America’s Promise over our 16 years. At our founding President’s Summit—which was bold in itself—we knew we had to create a sense of collective urgency about our children. It is a no-brainer that young people are this nation’s greatest natural resource, but in order to create a country where success is available to all, we needed to create a partner network where Fortune 500 companies work toward the same goals as youth-focused nonprofits.
Our partners—who now number in the hundreds—make America’s Promise a powerful force, but it has been the importance of building public support and awareness that has really helped propel our work forward.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We know when all young people have access to all the fundamental resources necessary for success, what we call the Five Promises: caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, an effective education and opportunities to serve; you don’t just change a life, you can change the trajectory of a generation.
The high school dropout crisis in this country is real. More than one in five students leaves school before they get a diploma. For Hispanic and African-American students, a third will drop out. For years this crisis went undetected, earning it the label “the Silent Epidemic.” That changed between 2006 and 2008 when a series of reports from America’s Promise, Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center and others shed a much-needed light on what General Colin Powell aptly called a “catastrophe.” There were high schools in this nation where the graduation rate was as low as 25 percent.
Public support is powerful and necessary to create change and armed with this new information, the public has responded.
At the time public recognition of this problem rose, education reform was also beginning to take hold and there was a renewed focus and public and private investment in education. In addition, more people began to realize that this is more than a schools problem – the community must be part of the solution. We also learned how data can transform a movement and help direct support to where it’s most needed.
Our 2013 Building a Grad Nation report found that this combination of forces is making a real difference. Between 2006 and 2010, progress in raising graduation rates accelerated, and for the first time we are on pace to meet the long held goal of a 90 percent national graduation rate by the class of 2020. More than 200,000 additional students received diplomas in 2010 than in 2006, and graduation rates for Hispanic students increased by 10 percentage points and seven percentage points for African Americans.
While we pause to note this progress and recognize how public support helped drive it, we know there is still much more work to be done. But we can say with confidence that the dream for a Grad Nation is moving forward.