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LOSING OUR FUTURE: New Report Finds Minority Students Face Fifty-Fifty Odds of Graduating from High School

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"Incredibly, some states report a 5 percent dropout rate for African Americans, when, in reality, only half of their young adult African Americans are graduating with diplomas."

Half or more of the nation’s minority students are failing to graduate from high school, according to a new report from the Harvard Civil Rights Projectthe Urban Institutethe Civil Society Institute’s Results for America Project, and Advocates for Children of New York. The report,Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis, found that while only 75 percent of white students graduate on time, the graduation rates for minority students are much lower.

As seen in the chart below, the national “graduation rate gap” (defined by the report as the difference in graduation rates between whites and minorities) for blacks is 25 percent, 22 percent for Hispanics, and 24 percent for Native Americans. In some states it is far worse; in New York, for instance, the gap is over 40 percent for both black and Hispanic students. “Despite wide ranges in some states, nearly every state shows a large and negative gap between whites and at least one minority group,” the report says.

National Graduation Rates by Race

Race/Ethnicity
Graduation Rate
Asian/Pacific Islander
76.8
White
74.9
Hispanic
53.2
Native American
51.1
Black

50.2

All Students
68.0

                    Source: Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis

The states with the worst black and Hispanic minority graduation rates are New York (35.1 percent black, 31.9 percent Hispanic), Wisconsin (41.1 percent, 54.4 percent), and Pennsylvania (45.9 percent, 40.9 percent).

“The dropout data in use today misleads the public into thinking that most students are earning diplomas. The reality is that there is little, or no, state or federal oversight of dropout and graduation rate reports for accuracy,” said Urban Institute Research Associate Dr. Christopher Swanson. “Incredibly, some states report a 5 percent dropout rate for African Americans, when, in reality, only half of their young adult African Americans are graduating with diplomas.”

The two most commonly used ways to measure graduation rates-the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) formula and the Census Bureau Current Population Survey (CPS) data-produce results that often dramatically underestimate the number of students who drop out. As an alternative, Dr. Swanson created the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), which “statistically examines changes in enrollment and the likelihood of graduating with a high school diploma by combining the average success of groups of students moving from ninth grade to tenth grade, from tenth grade to junior year, from junior year to senior year, and from senior year to graduation, at the district and state level.” Essentially, the CPI helps determine which groups experience the greatest difficulty graduating from high school and whether progress in improving high school completion rates is being achieved.

The report recommends that states use a more accurate system to report graduation rates. For example, thirty states currently use the NCES method. The report also recommends that states set reasonable graduation floors, require significant progress toward meeting these floors, and extend graduation rate accountability benchmarks to students subgrouped by ethnicity. Currently, only four states (Colorado, Illinois, North Dakota, and Oregon) have implemented graduation rate accountability plans that both include a floor and require disaggregation of data by race. However, three of these four (Illinois, North Dakota, and Oregon) use NCES accounting methods that tend to inaccurately represent true graduation rates.

The complete report, including state profiles, graduation rates for all fifty states disaggregated by ethnicity, and the graduation rates for the one hundred largest school districts is available at http://www.resultsforamerica.org/.

The Losing Our Future report draws on a companion report from the Urban Institute entitled Who Graduates? Who Doesn’t?: A Statistical Profile of Public High School Graduation, Class of 2001, which is available at http://www.urban.org/urlprint.cfm?ID=8742.

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