Diplomas Count 2012 Shows Progress, Problems

Like most similar reports documenting the state of the U.S. education system, the 2012 edition of Diplomas Count, from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, finds that there’s good news and bad news when it comes to the country’s high school graduation rates. The results show that the overall high-school graduation rate has gone up in 2009 for the second year in a row, an excellent development, coming as it does, after nearly a decade during which the graduation rate either declined or flatlined. The report found that more than 73% of high school students graduated in 2009, making it the best year since the 1970s. In the coming years, there will be an estimated 90,000 fewer students who will drop out of public school before completing it.

The gains are largely owed to the great strides taken by the country’s Latino students, who form the focus of the report.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that the educational and economic future of the nation will hinge on our ability to better serve the nation’s large and growing Latino population, which faces unique challenges when it comes to success in high school and the transition to college and career,” said Christopher B. Swanson, Vice President of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week. “Given what’s at stake, it is heartening to see that graduation rates for Latinos are improving faster than for any other group of students.”

The numbers also show that the graduation gap is closing between white students and African-Americans, with 1.7% more African-American students graduating high school during the year covered by the report. The percentage of Asian-Americans and Native Americans who graduated, dropped somewhat, but those losses were more than offset by the A-A numbers and the stunning 5.5% gain for Latinos. The graduation rates of white students have remained largely unchanged.

But even with the impressive gains, the Latino students still lag behind their white peers, with only 63% obtaining a high school degree, and they also make up the largest proportion of high school dropouts of any other ethnic or racial group. In 2012, the authors estimate that 27% of students who will leave high school before competition, will be Latinos. Nearly half of those dropouts will come from California and Texas.

The educational experiences of Latino students are largely reflected in—if not directly driven by—the characteristics of the communities in which they live and the school systems by which they are served. Latinos are much more likely than whites to attend districts that are large and highly urbanized, that serve high proportions of English-language learners, and that struggle with high levels of poverty and racial and socioeconomic segregation.