Cause for Optimism with Increasing High School Grad Rates

A newly released report reveals good news in the national fight to reduce the numbers of high school dropouts. The results of the study, conducted by the Civics Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America's Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, not only showed significant increases in the rates of high school graduation in 24 states, but also found that the number of schools that graduate less than 60% of its high school classes nationwide had dropped by 457. The report, which analyzed data going back to 2002, also showed that the number of so-called "drop-out factories" shrunk the fastest between 2009 and 2010.

The number of "dropout factories" totaled 1,550 in 2010, down from 1,634 in 2009 and a high of 2,007 in 2002. The number declined by 84 between 2009 and 2010. As a result, 790,000 fewer students attended dropout factories in 2010 than 2002. These numbers and additional analysis are detailed in the 2012 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, an annual report authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The report is sponsored by AT&T with additional support from the Pearson Foundation.

Robert Balfanz, the director of the Johns Hopkins University-based Everyone Graduates Center and the co-author of the report, sounded a cautious note of optimism, noting that while the improvements in graduation rates justified the efforts of the states to improve them, the future increases need to be even more rapid in order to reach the national graduation goals by the 2020 deadline.

While praising states that have shown particularly large gains, like New York and Tennessee, he drew attention to the states that either failed to improve at all or even saw graduation rate declines over the time period covered by the study. According to the report:

… the following states actually saw declines in their graduation rates during this period: Nevada (-15.6), Connecticut (-4.3), New Mexico (-2.6), Arizona (-2.2), California (-1.7), Utah (-1.1), Nebraska (-1.0), Arkansas (-0.8), New Jersey (-0.5) and Rhode Island (-0.4).

Although focusing mostly on information from the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate and Promoting Power report, the study also featured updates on academic achievement metrics making up the 10 Civic Marshall Plan benchmarks such as grade-level literacy, chronic absenteeism, and compulsory school-age requirements.

"In large part the battle will be won or lost in the 13 states that have the largest number of students to get back on track to graduate and need to accelerate their progress two to three-fold in order to reach 90% high school graduation rates by 2020," said John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and co-author of the Building a Grad Nation report.

The report also features states and school districts that are making significant gains, serving as a challenge that others can too. It also shares promising practices from nonprofits, businesses, media, educational and governmental institutions across the country, and five case studies in: Dothan, AL, the State of Georgia; Henry Grady High School in Atlanta, GA; Houston, TX; and Washington County Public Schools in Maryland.

03 20, 2012
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