485 Days and Counting: NYC's Education Department Stymies Public Records Requests, Both Big and Small

The 74 Interview: Alexis Morin on Students For Education Reform, Youth Power & Achieving Educational Justice

How Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Is Traumatizing Students Across the U.S. — Including Many Born Here

10 Keys to How the Class of 2021 Views the World: They Never Used Landlines or Desktops—But Are Emoji Experts

Success Academy Students Outscore Every District in New York State on Annual English and Math Exams

10 Tips for Immigrant Students, Families to Be Safe Part of LAUSD’s New ‘We Are One’ Guide

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools: AMPing Up Its Alumni Network to Track & Guide Students Through College

New Study: KIPP Pre-K Has Big — and Possibly Lasting — Impact on Early Student Achievement

My First Solar Eclipse! 17 Eye-Opening Photos of Kids Experiencing Science Along the Path of Totality

Bullying on the Rise in NYC Middle and High Schools, NYDN Analysis of Student Surveys Shows

Immigration Agents Inside Schools? Why Some Activists Are Warning Undocumented Students About Trump’s Policy Shifts

NYC Numbers Show City’s Unassigned Teachers Paid $10,000 More on Average Than Those Teaching Kids Full Time

As Immigrant Students Worry About a New School Year, Districts & Educators Unveil Plans to Protect Their Safety (and Privacy)

A D.C. Breakthrough as Traditional Public School Students Post Gains on PARCC Test, Outperforming Charters

This Week in ESSA: Final 4 First-Round States Get Federal Feedback, 6 States Now Approved, Chiefs for Change Weighs In

‘No One Is Above the Law’: Divisive Trump Surrogate Carl Paladino Removed From Buffalo School Board

Veto Override Uncertain as Fight Over Funding Illinois Schools Moves to the House

Noble Network of Charter Schools: It’s Not Just About Going to College, but About Global Perspective & Leaving Chicago

74 Interview: David Hardy on Putting Purpose Before Politics and Kids Before Adults in Leading Ohio’s 2nd State-Takeover District

For Schools, an Eclipse Conundrum: To Open or Close? For Fun or for Science?

Reaching 90% Grad Rate Unlikely Without an Acute Focus on Low-Income, Minority Kids, Report Finds

May 3, 2017

Talking Points

For second year, America is off track to reach a 90% grad rate by 2020

To raise grad rates, put a sharp emphasis on minority, low-income students

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

As the national high school graduation rate continues to rise — it hit a record 83.2 percent last year — the leaders of a campaign to raise that number to 90 percent by 2020 said Wednesday they fear the country will not meet that goal. Hitting that ambitious target would require a far more intense focus on minority and low-income students, who continue to lag behind.

“We’ve got to be real about what the barriers are to success for students,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO of the America’s Promise Alliance. “People who don’t graduate are most often dealing with very serious challenges, whether it’s housing insecurity or homelessness, whether it’s health and safety, whether it’s violence, whether it’s trauma, kids are dealing with some pretty serious stuff, and in order to help those kids succeed, we have to help them with those things.”

The alliance is one of four sponsors of the GradNation campaign, which on Wednesday issued a report analyzing federal graduation data from the 2014–15 school year. Those numbers were released in October and lauded by then-President Barack Obama as a victory for his education priorities. But despite the record graduation rate, gains were off pace for the second year in a row for meeting the campaign’s goal, according to the report, which was produced by the alliance, Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report comes at a moment of heightened skepticism around the validity of graduation rate data, driven by recent measurement errors and attempts to game the system. Additionally, attention has focused recently on the value of a high school diploma.

For the first time, the GradNation report, in its eighth year, addressed both these issues head-on.

Recent graduation rate blunders include revelations from Alabama and Tennessee that diplomas were awarded to students who didn’t meet state requirements. In Los Angeles, as the graduation rate continues to climb, recent data show that more than half of last year’s graduating seniors are ineligible for admission at the state’s public universities. There’ve been additional reports about districts attempting to game the system by relying on low-quality credit recovery programs, lowering the bar to receive a diploma, and pushing at-risk students into alternative programs or homeschooling.

While these are areas that require “careful monitoring,” according to the report, these incidents were not significant enough to alter the national graduation rate.

“When you have accountability measures in place, there are going to be people who do the wrong thing, and sometimes it’s not even the wrong thing, it’s just simple human error,” said Jennifer DePaoli, a senior research and policy adviser at Civic Enterprises who wrote the report. “We know that when you look at that big number at the national level, it’s pretty accurate even if things are happening in isolated places across the country.”

At the same time, attention has focused on the value of a high school diploma. While 59 percent of jobs require some postsecondary degree, the report noted, that will jump to 65 percent by 2020. But in defending the value of graduation rates, Gomperts said the numbers are best used as a “negative proxy.” While students who are not ready for college or career do often graduate, he said, it’s impossible for a high school dropout to remain on track.

During the Obama administration, then–Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the graduation rate goal central to his agenda. A year after he left Washington, America’s all-time high graduation rate was “one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said in an interview with The 74 last month. He noted, however, that more progress is needed. “This is not a ‘mission accomplished’ moment,” he said.

“For me, there’s nothing Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. It’s just about nation building,” Duncan said. “When we graduate more kids from high school, that’s great for the nation. When kids drop out, they’re basically condemned to poverty and social failure.”

It is unclear whether the Trump administration will place a similar emphasis on rising graduation rates, DePaoli said. Last month, after Congress eliminated equity regulations from the Every Student Succeeds Act, GradNation released a letter calling on states to use the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate to identify low-performing schools.

Focus on subgroups

If America wants to reach a 90 percent graduation rate, a sharp focus on minority students is paramount, according to the report. While 90.2 percent of Asian students and 87.6 percent of white students graduated in 2015, performance lagged among black and Hispanic students, those with disabilities, those from low-income families, and English language learners.


 

While 48.2 percent of students come from low-income families, the gap between poor children and their affluent peers stands at 13.7 percentage points. Additionally, 33 states reported graduation rates for students with disabilities below 70 percent, while four states — South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Nevada — graduated fewer than half of their students with special needs.

Despite the disparities, DePaoli noted that subgroups with the lowest historical graduation rates also saw the biggest gains. Since 2011, the graduation rate increased by 7.6 points for black students and 6.8 points for Hispanic students. The graduation rate for black students has increased by roughly 1.5 percentage points per year since 2011, and 1.36 points for Hispanic students. White students, however, have seen an annual gain of 0.72 percentage points over the same period.

“They’re still below the national average, and they’re still below their Asian peers and their white peers, so they still have some way to go,” DePaoli said. “But we see really positive progress there.”