Friday, June 8, 2012

National Graduation Rate Keeps Climbing

1.1 Million Students Still Fail to Earn Diplomas

Report Examines Challenges Facing Latino Students;

Identifies Promising Strategies and Districts Beating the Odds

Individualized Graduation Reports Issued for All 50 States and D.C.

A new national report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center, Diplomas Count 2012, finds that the nation’s graduation rate has posted a solid gain for the second straight year, following a period of declines and stagnation. Amid this continuing turnaround, the nation’s graduation rate has risen to 73 percent, the highest level of high school completion since the late 1970s. The report shows that the nation’s public schools will generate about 90,000 fewer dropouts than the previous year. Nationwide improvements were driven, in large part, by impressive gains among Latino students.

“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 Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “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.”

The nation's 12.1 million Latino schoolchildren encounter significant barriers on the road to educational success: language challenges, poverty, lagging achievement, low rates of high school and college completion, and, more recently, a wave of state laws targeting illegal immigrants that have put additional strain on Hispanic students, families, and communities. The 2012 edition of Diplomas Count—Trailing Behind, Moving Forward: Latino Students in U.S. Schools—takes a closer look at the state of schooling for this population of students, the challenges they face, and the lessons learned from some of the schools, districts, organizations, and communities that work closely with Latino students.

The report—part of an ongoing project conducted by the Bethesda, Md.-based Editorial Projects in Education—also tracks graduation policies for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and presents an updated analysis of graduation patterns for the nation, states, and the country’s 50 largest school systems. The new analysis focuses on the class of 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.


The national public school graduation rate for the class of 2009 reached 73.4 percent, an increase of 1.7 points from the previous year. Much of this improvement can be attributed to a rapid 5.5 point rise in graduation rates among Latinos and a 1.7 point gain for African-Americans. These increases more than offset modest drops in graduation rates for Asian-American and Native American students. Rates for white students remained largely unchanged.

The class of 2009 marked the end of a decade—punctuated by periods of sluggish growth and some troubling reversals—during which the nation’s graduation rate rose by more than 7 percentage points. These improvements have been widespread. Forty-four states have posted gains ranging from a fraction of a point to more than 20 points. All major demographic groups have also improved, with the drive toward higher graduation rates led by African-Americans and Latinos, both of which have posted improvements of 10 percentage points over the last 10 years.

While such signs of progress are reason for encouragement, that optimism is tempered by the reality that far too many young people are still failing to complete a high school education. Diplomas Count projects that 1.1 million students from this year's high school class will not graduate with a diploma. That amounts to 6,000 students lost each school day, or one student every 29 seconds.


Because the Latino graduation rate, at 63 percent, lags substantially behind the U.S. average, this group makes up a disproportionate number of the students who do not finish high school. 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 Hispanic dropouts.

The educational experiences of Latino students are largely reflected in—if not directly driven by—the characteristics of the communities in which they live and the school systems by which they are served. Latinos are much more likely than whites to attend districts that are large and highly urbanized, that serve high proportions of English-language learners, and that struggle with high levels of poverty and racial and socioeconomic segregation. Yet some schools, districts, and communities—including those profiled in the report—have demonstrated records of success serving diverse Latino populations.

In a special analysis conducted for Diplomas Count 2012, the EPE Research Center identified a nationwide group of large, majority-Hispanic districts that are beating odds when it comes to graduation rates. Topping the list is California's Lompoc Unified School District, which graduated 89 percent of its Latino students, compared with an expected rate of 67 percent. Three other districts "overachieved" by at least 15 percentage points: the Ceres Unified and Merced Union districts in California and Arizona's Yuma Union High School District. High-performing systems outside the West and Southwest included those serving Providence, R.I., and Yonkers, N.Y.


State Graduation Briefs for the 50 states and the District of Columbia featuring detailed data on current graduation rates and trends over time, definitions of college and work readiness, and state requirements for earning a high school diploma.

_ EdWeek Maps, a powerful online database, lets users access graduation rates and other information for every school system in the nation and easily compare district, state, and national figures at maps.

Graduation in the United States Nationwide, 73.4 percent of all public school students graduated from high school with a regular diploma in the class of 2009, marking the second straight year of gains following a period of modest declines. A gap of 35 percentage points separates the best-performing and worst-performing states. The national leaders—Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—each graduate at least 80 percent of their students. By contrast, the graduation rate falls below 60 percent in the District of Columbia, Nevada, and New Mexico.

From 1999 to 2009, the nation’s graduation rate increased by 7.3 percentage points on average.

_ Forty-four states posted gains over the past decade, including double-digit increases in 10 states: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

_ Graduation rates have increased for all major racial and ethnic groups, with African-Americans and Latinos showing the most rapid improvements. Both groups have posted increases of 10 percentage points in their graduation rates since 1999. As a result, the black-white and Latino-white graduation gaps have narrowed substantially over this period.

_ The gap between Native Americans and whites has widened somewhat.

Diplomas Count 2012


While all demographic groups and most states have made progress, large graduation gaps persist, both among racial and ethnic groups and across the states. These disparities remain a cause for concern.

_ Asian-Americans and whites remain the nation’s highest-performing groups, posting graduation rates of 81 percent and 79 percent, respectively, for the class of 2009. Sixty-three percent of Latinos finished high school with a diploma, while 59 percent of African-Americans and 53 percent of Native Americans graduated.

_ High school graduation rates for minority males consistently fall between 50 and 60 percent.

_ On average, 70 percent of male students earn a diploma compared with 76 percent of female students, a gender gap of nearly 7 percentage points that has remained virtually unchanged for years.


Graduation rates vary dramatically across states and districts. Some systems thrive, while others struggle to make earning a diploma a reality for most students. An alarming 35 percentage-point chasm separates the highest- and lowest-performing states.

_ The leading states—Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—each graduate more than 80 percent of their high school students. At the other extreme, fewer than 6 in 10 students graduate in the District of Columbia, Nevada, and New Mexico.

_ Wide variations are also found among the nation’s 50 largest districts. Within that group, Detroit has the lowest graduation rate, at 42.4 percent, while Montgomery County, Md., tops the nation at 87.6 percent.

_ The report also identifies the epicenters of the Hispanic graduation crisis, 25 individual school systems that collectively produce 37 percent of the nation’s Latino dropouts. Los Angeles is the leading producer of Latino dropouts, with nearly 30,000 Hispanic students failing to earn diplomas. New York City ranks second, with about 16,000 Latino nongraduates.


To provide context for high school completion rates and reform efforts, Diplomas Count tracks key state policies related to graduation.

_ College and work readiness: Thirty-seven states define what students should know and be able to do to be prepared for credit-bearing courses in college. Definitions of work readiness have likewise been established in 37 states.

_ Advanced diplomas: Twenty-three states award advanced diplomas or some type of formal recognition to students who exceed standard graduation requirements.

_ Exit exams: Twenty-four states require exit exams for the class of 2012, with 23 of those states basing exit exams on standards at the 10th grade level or higher.

_ Completing coursework: In the typical state, earning a diploma requires that students obtain four course credits in English, three credits each in math and social studies, and two or three credits in science.

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