40 States Show Improved High School Graduation Rates

More high school students across the country are graduating on time but dropouts continue to be a significant national problem, according to a new report entitled  “Building A Grad Nation,” authored by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center, at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

The nonprofit group, headed by former secretary of state Colin L.Powell, provides this annual update on graduation rates.

Overall, 40 states saw a bigger share of their high school students tossing tasseled hats into the air from 2002 to 2009, according to the study issued on March 19.

National Graduation Rate Up From 72 Percent To 75.5 Percent

The national graduation rate increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001. And the number of “dropout factories” — high schools where at least 60 percent of students do not graduate on time — fell from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,550 in 2010.

Wisconsin boasted the highest 2009 graduation rate at 90.7 percent. Nevada brought up the rear with a rate of 56.3 percent. Some experts are cautioning, however, to be careful with these numbers, since states use varying methodologies to calculate dropout rates.

Nevertheless, the signs are positive.

From The Washington Post:

National progress in graduation rates was driven by significant gains made by a dozen states: New York, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. New York and Tennessee stand out because they recorded particularly large gains.

Nine of these states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — were also among those with the biggest declines in dropout factories.

Researchers found that graduation rates vary by race, with 91.8 percent of Asian students, 82 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of Hispanics and 63.5 percent of blacks graduating on time.

Tennessee Gets Award For “Most Improved”

The most-improved award for graduation rates goes to Tennessee, which saw an increase of 17.8 percentage points over those eight years, bringing it to 77.4 percent in 2009. New York won the silver medal with a 13-point increase to 73.5 percent.

In addition to having the lowest graduation rate, Nevada also featured the biggest drop of any state, seeing a 15.6 percentage point plunge from 2002. Connecticut saw the next-largest decline, 4.3 points, followed by a pair of southwestern states, New Mexico (2.6) and Arizona (2.2).

“We have continued to make good progress, but we also have much work ahead to achieve our goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate,’’ Powell and his wife, Alma J. Powell, wrote in a letter introducing the report.

Drop-Out Rates Still A Problem

The authors said there are proven strategies to tackle the problem, such as getting all students to read at grade level, raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 and developing “early warning” systems to help identify students that might be at risk of later dropping out.

You may also recall that in his State of the Union address, President Obama encouraged states to pass laws to require students to stay in school until they graduate or they turn 18.

Of course, this is a very complicated issue, with many contributing factors. One obvious one is the level of poverty: in 2007–08, the average percentage of 12th-graders in high-poverty secondary schools who graduated with a diploma during the previous year was much lower than the average percentage for 12th-graders in low-poverty secondary schools.

The debate will continue, but at least the news is marginally good.

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Photo Credit: trs125


Linda T.
Linda T5 years ago

Tennessee's success is attributed to being one of the first states to pass a law that required students to stay in school till their eighteen birthday. But being in school is about the only thing you can say for Tennessee. They continue to spank children, expell children based on disability and race, overall they still have a lot of work ahead of them. And like this organiztion says all these states have varing accountability standards and that does make all difference in the world as to whether they are actually getting a great education or just getting them out the door.

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

So what?!

What good is it if you graduate from a school that taught you lies, misinformation (yes, there's a difference) and mythology/fables/fairytales as truth?
What good is graduating from a school that has damaged you so bad that you get laughed out of college, that is IF a reputable college even accepts you based on how bad your high school's reputation is!

Tennessee has most improved! Tennessee!!!! ROFLMFAO!

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago


John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Joe R.
Joe R5 years ago

It's amazing how many more students graduate when you lower the standards. We should have done this long ago.

Dave C.
David C5 years ago

very interesting, but no mention of why this occurred....changes in standards? testing? different ways of considering drop-out rates vs graduation? the infamous "NO Child Left behind" policy? etc...........

I would hope everyone would be given the opportunity to get all the education they want and need to help make themselves part of society that works towards a better future....

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you.

Ra Sc
Ra Sc5 years ago

I have mixed feelings on this. Most students would be better off staying in school until they graduate. But some people really are better off dropping out. My brother dropped out because he was really bored in school and had already been successfully running a business and didn't want to keep doing busywork in school. That decision has never harmed him. But most people who drop out do not do so because they already have better options and can easily learn things on their own if they choose to.

Mainly, I think we should put more work into making school a pleasant experience. Learning isn't supposed to be unpleasant. It should be enjoyable. So, we need to help students with problems to get help in a way that is respectful and not demeaning. Make sure that schools are safe places to be. Help students who are bored get classes that better suit their learning style or level of ability. And so forth. The problem is - none of that would be cheap. We'd need to really value education. But it is the right way to help students.

We'd also need to better help families so that children don't feel a need to drop out of school to get jobs to help their family survive. A better social safety net for those struggling with poverty would give fewer students a reason to drop out of school. But again, we'd have to really value education and having a better culture.