Graduation Rates on Track to Hit 90% by 2020, Study Claims

Building a Grad Nation, a new report from the America's Promise Alliance, Alliance of Excellent Education, Civic Enterprises and Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University finds some good news in its analysis of high school graduation rates across the country. According to the paper, this is the first time that the country is on track to meet its goal of 90% high school graduation rate by the year 2020 thanks to the progress made to help Hispanic and African-American students earn their diploma without dropping out of school.

Since 2001, graduation rates increased by more than 6% and now stand at nearly 80%. That means that more than 200,000 students got their high school diplomas than would have done had the graduation rates remained steady between 2006 and 2010.

The biggest gains in graduation rates happened in the Southern states. Five of the ten states with the largest gains since 2006 are from that region. The South is also home to 7 of the 10 states where the number of "drop-out factories" had been most significantly refused. The report defines a "drop-out factory" as a high school where fewer than 60% of students make it all the way from 9th grade to 12th.

Hispanic students also notched admirable graduation rate gains. The number of Hispanic students graduation high school jumped by more than 10% between 2006 and 2010, from 61% to 71.4%. Graduation rates among African-American students also improved from 59.2% to 66.1%.

The number of "dropout factories" totaled 1,424 in 2011, down from 1,550 in 2010 and a high of 2,007 in 2002. The number declined by 583 or 29 percent between 2002 and 2011. As a result, nearly 1.1 million fewer students attended dropout factories in 2011 than in 2002. More significantly the report found the number of African American and Hispanic students attending these schools declined dramatically. In 2011, 25 percent of African American students attended a dropout factory compared to 46 percent in 2002 and 17 percent of Hispanic students down from a high of 39 percent in 2002.

Perhaps the best news is that the rate of improvement is growing. While the total graduation rate in the United States increased by 5% between 2006 and 2010, more than half of that growth – 2.7% – came in 2009 and 2010. During the same period, more than 580 drop-out factories were permanently shuttered.

On the downside, although graduation rates among minority students showed substantial improvement, the achievement gap between them and their white peers remains. The country's success in closing it will be a huge factor in determining if it meets its 90% national high school graduation rate by the 2020 self-imposed deadline.

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