The nation’s high school graduation rate is on the rise and rose above 80 percent for the first time in U.S. history while the number of “dropout factories”—schools with graduation rates lower than 60 percent—fell from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,359 in 2012, according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, released April 28 by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Building a Grad Nation is the fifth annual report on the nation’s progress toward a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. Since 2006, the graduation rate has increased from 73 percent to 81 percent, marking the second year in a row that the nation is on pace to meet the 90 percent goal as measured by 2012 Averaged Freshman Graduation Rates (AFGR) from the U.S. Department of Education. The report notes that the largest gains were achieved by Hispanic students, whose graduation rate increased from 61 percent in 2006 to 76 percent in 2012, and African American students, whose graduation rate grew from 59 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2012.
For the tremendous progress over the last several years, the report credits students and the parents, teachers, principals, and others who support them. It also credits a greater awareness of the dropout crisis among policymakers and the public, increased accountability for graduation rates brought about by the No Child Left Behind Act and subsequent regulations from the U.S. Department of Education, and high school reform efforts targeted at dropout factories.
Specifically, the report mentions federal programs such as the Smaller Learning Communities program and School Improvement Grants, efforts in New York City and elsewhere to close large comprehensive high schools and replace them with new, smaller high schools specifically designed for students from high-poverty neighborhoods, and research identifying the key on-and-off-track-to-graduation indicators for ninth graders and middle-grades students that led to the “rapid diffusion of early-warning systems at the school, district, and state levels.”
“Our progress is amazing. Close to 400,000 more students per high school class are graduating now than in 2001 and more than 1 million fewer students attend dropout factories,” said Robert Balfanz, research scientist and codirector of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. “The work that remains, however, is also stunning. In a significant number of states, one-third of students from low-income families are not graduating. Likewise, about 40 percent of young men of color and large numbers of students with disabilities do not receive diplomas. This, at a time when a high school diploma is a necessary gateway to adult success.”
According to the report, which cites adjusted cohort graduation rates (ACGR) for the Class of 2012, only five states have a graduation rate gap of less than 10 percentage points between their low-income students and non-low-income students. In ten states, the graduation rates for non-low-income students are at least 20 percentage points higher than the graduation rates for low-income students. States with the smallest and largest graduation rate gaps between their non-low-income and low-income students are shown in the table below. (Click on the image for a larger version).
Closing this graduation rate gap between non-low-income and low-income students is one of five key demographic and geographic areas identified in the report that must be addressed if the nation is to reach its 90 percent graduation rate goal. The other four areas are
- Big cities: More than half of the 1,300 remaining dropout factories are located in large urban areas.
- Special education: Students with disabilities account for 13 percent of all students nationally, and the national average graduation rate for these students is 20 points lower than the average graduation rate for all students.
- California: Thirteen percent of the country’s students live in California, which the report calls a “laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship.” At the same time, however, it faces significant challenges, including large percentages of low-income students, student diversity, and decreased state education funding, among others.
- Graduation rates for young men of color in key states: Despite the progress made in raising graduation rates and decreasing the percentage of African American and Hispanic students attending dropout factories, young men of color still have unacceptably low graduation rates.
“Reaching the Grad Nation 90 percent graduation rate goal would make a dramatic improvement in the lives of individual students while giving a tremendous boost to the nation’s economy,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Increasing the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent for just one high school class would create as many as 65,700 new jobs and boost the national economy by as much as $10.9 billion. That’s why the best economic stimulus is a high school diploma.”
Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic is available at http://gradnation.org/resource/building-gradnation-progress-and-challenge-ending-high-school-dropout-epidemic-2014.