Thursday, June 6, 2013

High School Graduation Rate Reaches Highest Point in 40 Years

A new national report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center finds that the nation’s graduation rate has posted a solid gain for the third straight year, following a period of declines and stagnation. Amid this continuing turnaround, the nation’s graduation rate has risen to almost 75 percent, the highest level of high school completion since 1973. Although 1 million students will fail to graduate with the class of 2013, the report shows that the nation’s public schools will generate 96,000 fewer dropouts than the previous year. Nationwide improvements were driven, in large part, by strong gains among Latino and black students.

“A decade ago, as concerns about the nation’s graduation rate were just starting to gain public attention, only two-thirds of U.S. students were finishing high school with a diploma,” said Christopher B. Swanson, Vice President of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “Now, the graduation rate for America’s public schools stands just shy of 75 percent. At the current pace of improvement, the graduation rate could reach an all-time high within the next few years.”

But there is a flip side to these gains: Far too many young people are still failing to complete a meaningful high school education, and most of these nongraduates come from educationally and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and communities. The 2013 edition of Diplomas Count—Second Chances: Turning Dropouts into Graduates—investigates “recovery” interventions that target these out-of-school youths—a group whose prospects for landing a stable job or a postsecondary credential may depend on finishing high school.

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 original analysis of graduation patterns for the nation, states, and the country’s 50 largest school systems. The new findings focus on the class of 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.


The national public school graduation rate for the class of 2010 reached 74.7 percent, rising nearly 2 full percentage points from the previous year and 8 points in the past decade. Much of the nation’s improvement since 2000 has been driven by strong gains for historically underserved groups. Graduation rates for Latino students have skyrocketed 16 percentage points over this period, reaching 68 percent for the class of 2010. Rates for black students, now at 62 percent, have risen 13 points.

Graduation rates for white and Asian students—now at 80 percent and 81 percent, respectively—have increased at a slower pace. In a partial exception to the general upward trend, Native American students have experienced only modest improvements since 2000 and have seen their rates decline since 2008.

A 30-point graduation gap separates Asians and Native Americans, the nation’s highest- and lowest-performing groups.

One implication of these distinctive improvement patterns is a narrowing of the graduation gap between whites and their Latino and black peers. The white-Latino gap has been cut in half in the past decade, while the black-white gap shrank by almost 30 percent.


The EPE Research Center also finds significant divides across the states and from district to district. A 28-percentage-point gap separates the highest-performing state (Vermont at 85 percent) from the lowest performer (the District of Columbia at 57 percent). All told, 13 states are now graduating at least 80 percent of their students; in six states, fewer than two-thirds of students finish high school with a diploma.

Graduation rates have also been on the rise in a majority of states during the past decade. Forty-six states have posted gains ranging from a fraction of a percentage point to nearly 32 points. The states losing ground typically saw declines of 2 points or less.

A similar degree of variation exists among the nation’s largest school systems. With a graduation rate of 85 percent, Fairfax County, Va., ranks first among the 50 largest districts in the country; Maryland’s Baltimore and Montgomery counties follow closely, at 84 percent each. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Detroit graduates fewer than half of its students. Graduation rates surpass the national average in 18 of the 50 largest districts.


This year’s report includes a special original analysis that examines the nation’s population of “recoverable” youths—young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 who are not in school and who have not completed a high school education. These individuals comprise nearly 7 percent of this age group and are prime targets for recovery interventions aimed at returning former students to a pathway leading to either a diploma or other high school credential.

The report estimates that there are 1.8 million recoverable youths nationwide, with largest numbers tending to be found in more populous states: California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas. Native American, Latino, and black youths are disproportionately represented among young adults who are out of school without a high school credential. Within the out-of-school population, employment rates are 75 percent higher for those who have finished high school, compared with dropouts.

The 2013 edition of Diplomas Count, entitled Second Chances: Turning Dropouts into Graduates, examines dropout recovery and innovative strategies for returning to the educational fold the 1 million students who leave school without a diploma each year. Education Week’s journalists investigate interventions that provide second chances to those youths—a group whose prospects for landing a stable job or a postsecondary credential may depend on finishing high school.

The report also features the EPE Research Center’s original, comprehensive analysis of high school graduation rates, completely updated for this year’s report, and includes a special focus on state and local patterns.
To help guide your reporting, we have highlighted some of the key findings below. For the purposes of the national totals presented below, the District of Columbia is counted as a state.

From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s graduation rate increased by 7.9 percentage points on average.

_ Forty-six states posted gains over the past decade, including double-digit increases in 10 states: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.

_ Graduation rates have increased for all major racial and ethnic groups, with Latinos and African-Americans showing the most rapid improvements—gains of 16.3 and 13.2 percentage points, respectively, since 2000.

_ The Latino-white and black-white graduation gaps have narrowed substantially over this period. However, the gap between Native Americans and whites has widened somewhat.


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 80 percent, respectively, for the class of 2010. Sixty-eight percent of Latinos finished high school with a diploma, while 62 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Native Americans graduated.

_ High school graduation rates for minority males fall between 46 percent (Native Americans) and 63 percent (Latinos).

_ On average, 72 percent of male students earn a diploma compared with 78 percent of female students, a gender gap of 6.5 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. A 28-percentage-point divide separates the highest- and lowest-performing states.

_ The 13 leading states— Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin—each graduate at least 80 percent of their high school students. At the other extreme, fewer than two-thirds of students graduate in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina.

_ Wide variations are also found among the nation’s 50 largest districts. Within that group, Detroit has the lowest graduation rate, at 46 percent, while Fairfax County, VA., tops the nation at 85 percent.

_ The report also identifies the epicenters of the graduation crisis: twenty-five individual school systems that collectively produce 18 percent of the nation’s dropouts. New York City is the leading producer of dropouts, with nearly 36,500 students failing to earn diplomas. Los Angeles ranks second, with about 32,000 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-eight 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 38 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 2013, with all but one of those states basing the 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, science, and social studies.


_ The full Diplomas Count 2013 report and interactive tools:

_ 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

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