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Empty Seats

An installation of 857 school desks on the Washington Mall calls attention to the nation's dropout crisis.

An empty chair played a prominent  role in a bit of rambling light comedy at the Republican convention this summer. A few months earlier, 857 school desks were set out on the Washington Mall to make a much more serious statement. That's the number of students who drop out of high school every hour of every school day, which adds up to some 1.2 million kids each year.

The installation kicked off the College Board's Don't Forget Ed campaign, which seeks to generate more debate about education in the presidential race. According to a survey in nine key states commissioned by the College Board this spring, voters have education on their minds. With 67 percent of respondents describing education as "extremely important to them personally" in this year's elections, it ranks as a top issue, just below the economy (82 percent), and right alongside government spending (69 percent) and health care (67 percent).

There's plenty of reason to be concerned about those 857 students leaving school every hour. With the erosion of the country's manufacturing base, opportunities are slim. In fact, 44 percent of high school dropouts under the age of 24 are unemployed, according to the campaign.

Find more facts on education, an online petition, and other ways to get involved at

—Fall 2012—

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