National Press Club

Dropout Rate No Joke, Alma Powell Tells Luncheon

April 2, 2009 | By Bill Miller

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Even though she was speaking on April Fools Day, Alma Powell, chairwoman of the America’s Promise Alliance, told a luncheon April 1 that, as a nation, “we for too long have been fooling ourselves” about the alarming high-school dropout rate.

“About one-third of our children drop out of school every year,” she said. “Before the end of today, 7,000 kids will have dropped out – one every 26 seconds.”

Calling the crisis an “economic issue” that is eating away at the United States’ ability to compete in a global economy, she said that the nation “cannot have a future unless our children are well-prepared for the future.”

With her husband, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, sitting nearby, Powell spoke on the first anniversary of the alliance’s dropout prevention campaign. She reported that America’s Promise, formed by Gen. Powell in 1997 to make young people a national priority, now counts 280 corporations, foundations and other organizations as partners – up from 180 last year. Through summit meetings in all 50 states, she said, the alliance has brought together more than 12,000 leaders from all sectors to develop action plans to boost graduation rates.

Powell used her speech to announce a $1 million grant from Wal-Mart Foundation to the campaign. She also announced that on April 22 the alliance will release an update of its “Cities in Crisis” report on dropouts and on May 5 will unveil a Gallup Organization survey on the hope and well-being of young people.

In answer to a question, Powell said that Congress’ recent passage of the economic stimulus package “will encourage needed change” in education. The emphasis on improving school facilities, she said, will lead to “bright, clean surroundings” that enables students to do better.

Among other responses, she said that charter schools “have a lot more imagination” than public schools; acknowledged that the recession is cutting foundation grants to America’s Promise, but doesn’t stop the need; and urged a change in the length of the school year.

Asked if she is sorry her husband didn’t run for president, as he was urged to do in 2000, she answered, “If he did, I wouldn’t be here [at NPC] today.” But she said that she is proud that a black man now occupies the White House.