Petition 81077

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Equity in Access to High School Education (81077-C1-R9999)

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Equity in Access to High School Education
   Our Social Principles affirm that the rights of children include “the right to quality education” (¶ 162.C).   This right expresses a basic American belief that all children should have the opportunity to realize their full potential.   Today, such education must include not only ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ but also a wide range of knowledge, understanding and skills that will equip each student for either college, or gainful employment, and the exercise of citizenship responsibilities necessary for the survival of a democratic society.   For such reasons, our Social Principles support “the development of school systems and innovative methods of education designed to assist every child toward complete fulfillment as an individual person of worth” (¶ 162.C).    
    Unfortunately, most schools in the United States are far from achieving this goal.   Schools often report that 90-95 percent of seniors (12th  graders) graduate from high school.   But these figures overlook the fact that nationally 30 percent of all 9th  graders fail to finish high school with a diploma.    Even those who later earn a GED are much more likely than diploma holders “to be unemployed or eventually need some form of government assistance.”    As the U.S. economy shifts increasingly to service and information industries, “failing to earn a diploma has become devastating to an individual’s opportunity for economic and social advancement.   One telling fact is that approximately two-thirds of all state prison inmates have not completed high school by any measure.”
    Failure to finish high school with a diploma, with the devastating consequences this has for an individual’s  future prospects, is a bitter reality that disproportionally impacts minority youth — especially minority males.   Nationally, 78 percent of white females entering the 9th  grade graduate with a diploma four years later, while 72 percent of white males do so.    Graduation rates are substantially lower for minority students of all backgrounds:  among Hispanics, only 60 percent of all females entering the 9th  grade graduate four years later, while just 50 percent of males do so;  among African Americans the figures are 59 percent for females and only 44 percent for males, with similar figures for American Indian youth.    These high attrition rates have been attributed to both ‘drop out’ and ‘push out’ — to students dropping out of school because they find no help or encouragement to overcome a challenge, and to low achieving students being pushed out into alternative programs such as GED to improve a school’s test scores.
    The above sobering figures clearly indicate that, despite some ‘success stories’,  schools in the U.S. are largely failing to equip nearly one-third of all students, and a much higher percentage of minority youth, with the knowledge, understanding and skills needed for entering college, or gainful employment, and the exercise of citizenship responsibilities necessary for the survival of a democratic society.   These failings are indicative of a crisis that is marginalizing millions of American youth, especially minority youth, consigning them to second-class citizenship, contributing to an erosion of American democracy, and leaving many members of faith communities less equipped to bear witness to issues of justice and peace.
    In view of this crisis and the urgent need to hold our educational system accountable to providing equity in access to a high school education for students from all social backgrounds, we:
1.  Call upon local, state and federal educational agencies to annually and publicly report  graduation rates by sex, race and ethnicity;
2. Call upon local, state and federal educational agencies to annually and publicly report the retention rate for students entering 9th, 10th, 11th  and 12th  grades by sex, race and ethnicity;
3.   Call upon local, state and federal educational agencies to make increasing the percentage of entering 9th  grade students who graduate on time with a high school diploma a major focus of educational reform;
4.   Call upon local, state and federal educational agencies to make such changes as needed in accountability systems to provide incentives for schools to keep their most challenged students in school — such as smaller class size, support for teachers’ professional development, and opportunities for students to recover from failure;
5.  Call for equitable distribution of financial and other educational resources to all school districts so that no school district will be at a disadvantage in striving to provide quality education for all children within its boundaries;  
6.  Recommend that in each annual conference concerned United Methodists ask their state and federal legislators to support legislation that will help implement concerns 1-5 above;
7.   Request that the General Board of Church and Society develop and promote an educational program to help equip United Methodists to advocate on the above issues.