Graduation rates may be rising

Graduation rates are inching up and fewer high schools are “dropout factories,” concludes Building A Grad Nation, a report by the America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprise and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins. From 2002-08, graduation rates rose form 72 percent to 75 percent, researchers found. The number of dropout factories — high schools with graduation rates under 60 percent — fell by 13 percent.

Tennessee raised its graduation rate by 15 percent; New York went up by 10 percent.

New York City closed low-performing schools, writes Sarah Garland on HechingerEd.

Besides causing an outcry among parents and teachers, this approach hasn’t always yielded all positive benefits, as we’ve written about previously. (For an in-depth look at the arduous process of closing a school, I recommend the GothamSchools series that has followed the effort to shut down Columbus High School in the Bronx along with two others.)

The city also created “alternate pathways for at-risk students so they could catch up on missed credits or return to school after dropping out.”

While black, Hispanic and Native American students made the greatest gains, only 40 percent graduated on time in 2008, notes Education Week.

The report recommended a number of strategies:

These include targeting schools with high dropout rates and the lower grades that feed into them; providing more-rigorous course requirements along with more flexible class schedules for students; and developing early-warning systems to identify students in earlier grades at risk of dropping out, among other strategies.

To qualify for federal education grants, states and districts must track students from eighth grade through graduation, starting in 2010-11, and start showing improvement in 2011-12. Requiring a consistent reporting method will stop districts from inflating graduation rates, says Joanna Fox of Johns Hopkins.

About Joanne


  1. The report published doesn’t contain any new information about graduation rates, since the dropout rate has pretty much remained constant since the 1970’s (with approximately 1 in every 4 students who start high school not finishing).

    The notion that President Obama wants a 90% completion rate in high school is great in theory, but if we look at the precursor to NCLB that was Goals 2000 started by the Clinton administration and was funded for more than a decade, it didn’t achieve a single stated goal (and there were some lofty ones to be sure).

    The reasons why students drop out of school are many (lack of parental support, failure to learn material in lower grade levels, peer pressure, boredom, and so on), but in reality, you are always going to have students left behind, and you will always have dropouts (and by definition, schools which are ‘dropout factories’). In my home state of Nevada, a local station had this posted on it’s web site:

    A new report says Nevada has lost ground when it comes to high school dropouts. The report released Tuesday by America’s Promise Alliance says the number of high schools in Nevada deemed “dropout factories” rose from eight in 2002 to 34 in 2008.

    Nevada is typically is ranked in the bottom 20% in terms of education, and the reasons aren’t due to spending on education (yeah, the spend more on education mantra always hits home), but other factors such as the economy, high rate of ESL/LEP/ELL students, and in general, apathy towards education by many students (and their parents).

  2. Graduation rates aren’t the problem; real HS-grad level knowledge and skills are the problem. Increasing grad rates without increasing knowledge and skills is meaningless. Given the all-too-common watered-down curriculum and undemanding assignments, lots of HS grads don’t even have real 8th-grade skills. The problem is worse in urban areas and in some Southern areas, but it exists pretty much everywhere. A look at the proliferation of remedial classes at both community colleges and 4-year colleges illustrates that. I just read recently that only 24%of ACT takers were ready for college-level work in all 4 subject areas, which suggests that those not planning on college are probably far below that level. I just talked to a teacher whose incoming, affluent, suburban class of “college-prep” 9th-grade English students was generally unable to identify the subject of sentences with only one noun/pronoun.

  3. That is a pretty sad statement on the concept of what is called college prep today (when I was in 9th grade, if you couldn’t identify the subject in a sentence of that simplicity, you were usually failing most, if not all if your coursework).

    The issue of what is high school knowledge however has been watered down (I went to a store this morning where the young lady working the register couldn’t even give me the correct amount of change for a purchase made with a $10 bill, and from what I could see, she wasn’t even aware that she had made the error until I pointed it out).


  4. Bill, I agree; the level of math “knowledge” is beyond awful; between the awful ES-MS curricula and calculators, I don’t know how we’ll improve anything. Three examples in the past 2 years; a 40+ woman unable to figure 5% sales tax on a $10 purchase at a mall kiosk, a coffee shop clerk unable to make change for a $2.82 purchase when given $3.02 and two deli clerks (one a supervisor) who assured me that they couldn’t calculate 2/3 pound on their digital scale. In all cases, they were unable to figure it out even after I explained. The coffee shop clerk had a calculator but was didn’t know how to use it to get an answer. The first two just took my word for the amount; the deli clerks agreed to keep adding meat to the scale until I said “stop.” Three sighs…

    Although there is one bright spot. Both of my local farmers’ markets have multiple kids, starting at about 9, who add up purchases with paper and pencil and count back change. Quickly and correctly. Of course, a number are home schooled and more are after schooled.

  5. The worst thing that was ever done to cashiers was for cash registers to start figuring the change due to the customer (and even they can’t do this correctly), prior to this, the person working the register had to figure the change in their head and count it back properly to the customer. Here is a link showing what happens when people have bad math skills:

    LAS VEGAS — Hiring managers holding job fairs are finding a majority of the applicants for jobs involving handling money don’t have basic math skills. Adult education programs attempt to close the gap, but not everybody can find help.