The percentage of students at public high schools who graduate in four years has reached its highest level in nearly 40 years, according to the most recent federal government estimates released this week.
According to the report, 3,128,022 public school students received a high school diploma in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available. That led to an Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate of 78.2%, the best since 1974, according to the U.S. Education Department. The AFGR is an estimate of high school students who graduate within four years of starting ninth grade.
The Good News
Although this is only one measure of school success, it’s an important one, since educators and policymakers have been trying for decades to stem the number of U.S. students who drop out of high school. (Other measures of success include attendance rates, teacher turnover, parent ratings, school tests and standardized test scores.)
However, a closer look reveals there is both good news and bad news to report on U.S. high school graduation rates.
From The Los Angeles Times:
The latest federal report on public school graduates and dropouts, released Tuesday, paints an improving picture of high school education, but the results vary by location, a reflection of the reality that education policy remains a local issue.
Contributing to the improvement was a poor economy, with fewer jobs of any kind available, especially less of the poorer-paying, entry-level posts that can tempt students to leave school. Unemployment ranged as high as 10% in the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year included in the study.
Excitingly, the percentage of Hispanic students who graduated on time jumped up, with a 10-point jump over the past five years, to 71.4 percent. As the nation’s largest minority group, Hispanics count for more than 50 million people, or about 16.5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center.
The Bad News
That’s the good news, but it’s clear from the report that big gaps persist between racial groups. Asian students came in with the highest graduation rate, with 93 percent of students finishing high school on time. White students followed with an 83 percent graduation rate, American Indians and Alaska Natives with 69.1 percent, and African-Americans with 66.1 percent.
Location also made a big difference to graduation rates. Lowest-ranked Nevada reported a 57.8 percent graduation rate, and the District of Columbia came in with a 59.9%, while Wisconsin’s number was 91.1% and top-ranked Vermont reported 91.4 percent.
So what about all the students who didn’t graduate in four years?
During the 2009-10 academic year, more than 514,000 students dropped out of high school nationwide, a rate of 3.4%. Once again, location matters: New Hampshire and Idaho had the lowest dropout rates, while Mississippi and Arizona had the highest.
From The Mercury News:
The dropout rate – those who leave school between ninth and 12th grades and do not earn equivalency diplomas – was the lowest for Asian/Pacific Islander students at 1.9 percent and white students at 2.3 percent. American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest dropout rate, at 6.7 percent. Black and Hispanic students dropped out at rates of 5.5 and 5 percent, respectively.
Boys dropped out of school in higher numbers than girls, in every state. The national dropout rate was 3.8 percent for boys and 2.9 percent for girls. Dropout rates do not combine with graduation rates to total 100 percent because they do not include students who take longer than four years to graduate or those who earn GED certificates.
(In case you’re wondering why these dropout numbers don’t combine with graduation rates to total 100 percent, that’s because they do not include students who take longer than four years to graduate or those who earn GED certificates.)
How accurate are these numbers? For a long time, high school graduation rates were overstated, with the Department of Education, coming in routinely at 80 or even 90 percent. States did not use a standard tool to measure those rates, and often included dropouts who earned their GED later.
However, in 2005, the Education Department began publishing an official estimate of graduation rates, and all 50 states agreed to adopt a standard method of calculating those rates by 2013. So yes, these numbers are mostly accurate, which means there is still a wide discrepancy across the U.S. in terms of educational success.
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