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DIPLOMAS COUNT: Gains in High School Graduation Rates for Latino and African American Students Boost National Graduation Rate to 73.4 Percent

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the educational and economic future of the nation will hinge on our ability to better serve the nation’s large and growing Latino population, which faces unique challenges when it comes to success in high school and the transition to college and career.”

The national high school graduation rate increased for the second straight year, according to Diplomas Count 2012, the annual report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center. The report pegs the graduation rate at 73.4 percent, an increase of 1.7 percentage points compared to last year and the highest level of high school completion since the late 1970s. It credits the improvement in the national graduation rate to significant improvements in the graduation rates for Latino and African American students, whose graduation rates increased by 5.5 and 1.7 percentage points, respectively.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the educational and economic future of the nation will hinge on our ability to better serve the nation’s large and growing Latino population, which faces unique challenges when it comes to success in high school and the transition to college and career,” said Christopher B. Swanson, vice president of EPE. “Given what’s at stake, it is heartening to see that graduation rates for Latinos are improving faster than for any other group of students.”

According to the report, which focuses on the Class of 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, the high school graduation rate for Latino students was 63.0 percent, compared to 57.6 percent for the Class of 2008. Even with the significant increase, the Latino graduation rate still trails that of Asian students (80.5 percent) and white students (78.8 percent), but it is higher than that of African American students (58.7 percent) and American Indian students (53.1 percent). The report also finds a significant gap between the graduation rates of female (76.4 percent) and male students (69.6 percent).

With the uptick in the national graduation rate, the report shows that approximately 90,000 fewer students dropped out of high school compared to the previous year. Still, it projects that 1.1 million students from the Class of 2012 will not graduate with a diploma. That amounts to 6,000 students per school day or one student every twenty-nine seconds.

Among individual states, high school graduation rates increased in three-quarters of the states from 2008 to 2009. And over the past decade, forty-four states improved their graduation rates, led by Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, each of which increased their graduation rates by more than 10 percentage points. Still, the report finds that graduation rates vary dramatically across states, with 35 percentage points separating the highest-performing state (New Jersey) and the lowest-performing state (District of Columbia). The highest- and lowest-performing states are in the table below.


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The report also tracks the graduation rates in the nation’s fifty largest school districts. At the top of that list were Montgomery County, Maryland (87.6 percent); Fairfax County, Virginia (85.5 percent); and Jefferson County, Colorado (85.5 percent). At the bottom were Detroit (42.4 percent); Los Angeles (45.8 percent); and Jefferson County, Kentucky (48.3 percent).

Diplomas Count 2012 also includes a special analysis of Latino students, including the challenges they face and key takeaways from schools, districts, organizations, and communities that work closely with these students. According to the report, 12.1 million, or 22.4 percent, of the 54 million five- to seventeen-year-olds currently living in the United States are Hispanic. By 2020, one in four children enrolled in America’s K–12 public schools will be Latino.

“Because graduation rates for Latinos lag substantially behind the U.S. average, this group makes up a disproportionate number of the students who do not finish high school,” writes Swanson. “Of the 1.1 million members of the class of 2012 that we project will fail to graduate with a diploma, about 310,000 (or 27 percent) will be Latinos. Two states—California and Texas—will produce half the nation’s Latino dropouts.”

The report identifies twenty-five “epicenters” of the Hispanic high school graduation crisis that collectively produce 37 percent of the nation’s Latino dropouts. Los Angeles, with nearly 30,000 Hispanic dropouts is first, followed by New York with 16,000. It also spotlights thirty-eight school systems that are “exceeding expectations” by having a Latino graduation rate that is higher than would be expected based on ten characteristics, including district size and poverty rate. At the top of that list are three California school districts—Lompoc Unified, with a Latino graduation rate of 89 percent, Ceres Unified (85 percent), and Merced Union (82 percent). All three of these districts would be expected to have graduation rates around 66 percent.

“With such strong and growing numbers, the educational achievement of this diverse community of students—who increasingly live in states and communities where Latinos were virtually nonexistent even a decade ago—has implications for the national economy, local labor markets, and prospects for upward social mobility for millions of Hispanic Americans,” the report notes.

Diplomas Count 2012 is available at

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