High School Graduation Rates Increase


According to a new analysis of high school completion from the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center finds that the national graduation rate stands at 71.7 percent for the class of 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. The overall graduation rate for public high school students jumped nearly 3 percentage points from 2007 to 2008, more than offsetting the nationwide declines of the previous two years. Each major racial and ethnic group also posted gains of at least 2 percentage points, with African-American students improving most rapidly.

That projection equals nearly 1.2 million students from this year’s high school class will fail to graduate with a diploma. That amounts to 6,400 students lost each day of the year, or one student every 27 seconds.  To bring it to a visual level, that equals 160 school buses, filled with children leaving school every day, never to return.

What is particularly vexing is that there are still graduation gaps along the lines of race, gender, and geography.  Asian-Americans and whites remain the nation’s highest-performing groups, posting graduation rates of 83 percent and 78 percent, respectively, for the class of 2008.  The nation’s graduation rate rose by 6.1 percentage points over all of the past decade. During the same period, the black-white graduation gap narrowed by 2 points, owing to the more rapid progress made by African-Americans. Because improvement for whites outpaced that of other groups, though, the gaps between Native Americans and whites and between Latinos and whites have widened somewhat since 1999.

Among Latinos in the class of 2008, 58 percent finished high school with a diploma, while 57 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Native Americans graduated. On average, 68 percent of male students earn a diploma compared with 75 percent of female students, a 7-percentage-point gender gap that has remained virtually unchanged for years. High school completion rates for minority males consistently fall near or below the 50 percent mark.

Suburban districts graduate considerably more students on average than do those serving urban communities, 76 percent vs. 64 percent. Regardless of location, graduation rates in districts characterized by heightened levels of poverty or racial or socioeconomic segregation fall well below the national average, typically ranging from 58 percent to 63 percent.

In addition, the 44-percentage-point chasm separating the highest- and lowest-performing states remains alarming. The national leaders—New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin—each graduate more than 80 percent of their high school students. At the other extreme of the rankings, fewer than six in 10 students finish high school in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina. Overall, graduation rates in about half the states fall within 5 points of the national average of 72 percent.

Graduation rates have also risen in a large majority of states during the past decade. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have posted gains ranging from a fraction of a percent to 20 percentage points over that time span. Among the states that have lost ground, all but one of the declines were on the order of 5 percentage points or less.

Urban districts, perhaps predictably, occupy the lowest spots on the rankings, often graduating no more than half their students and as few as one-third. Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., respectively, rank first and second among the nation’s largest districts, with graduation rates topping 85 percent, more than 50 percentage points higher than Detroit, the lowest-ranked district.

Median earnings for prime working-age adults (25 to 54) steadily increase as levels of educational attainment rise. A typical worker with at least a four-year college degree earns about $50,000 per year, compared with a median income of $30,000 among those with a two-year degree and about $18,500 for those with no more than a high school diploma.   Income data from 2009 show that annual earnings increase significantly as workers acquire progressively higher levels of education. Median earnings for adults who have not completed high school stand at only $12,000. Acquiring a high school diploma generates an additional $10,000 of earnings on average, with any amount of postsecondary education (including an associate degree) raising income an additional $8,000 a year, to almost $30,000. The typical four-year degree-holder earns about $50,000 a year.

Twenty-?ve individual school systems account for one in every ?ve nongraduates nationwide for the class of 2011.

As I have indicated in the past, we do not know what “career readiness” means.  Data indicate that many of the jobs of the future have not been clearly defined and according to many business magazines, many companies which will employ graduates haven’t even opened.  So schools are preparing students for jobs that may not exist.

The expectation that every student needs to be college-ready is also a fallacy.  We need graduates who are capable of building and repairing equipment, automobiles and computers instead of sending these jobs offshore.  Many of our students who have followed the rules and gone to college and graduated cannot find work and are not burdened with large loans.