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WASHINGTON - It's a nickname no principal could be proud of: ''Dropout Factory,'' a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year. That dubious distinction applies to more than one in 10 high schools across America.

''If you're born in a neighborhood or town where the only high school is one where graduation is not the norm, how is this living in the land of equal opportunity?'' asks Bob Balfanz, the researcher at Johns Hopkins University who defines such a school as a ''dropout factory.''

There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either.

Utah is the only state without a dropout factory.

That's likely because of the state's low poverty rate and the fact that it has fewer minorities than other states, said Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the Utah Office of Education.

However, the state does have schools, particularly in inner city Ogden and Salt Lake City and on reservations, that face many of the same challenges as schools nationwide identified as dropout factories. Educators work hard to keep students in school.

"We take responsibility for our high school graduation records," he said, adding that the state does not have a tradition of shuffling kids out of their regular high schools into alternative schools "just to sort of cook the books."

In Utah, each high school tracks its own dropout rates rather than having it done at the state level.

While some of the missing students nationwide transferred, most dropped out, Balfanz says.

The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones - the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.

Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentages. About half of high schools in those states classify as dropout factories.


* ROXANA ORELLANA contributed to this story.