Graduation rate is up to 71.7%

The nation’s high school graduation rose to 71.7 percent in  2008, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.  Over the decade, the graduation rate rose by 6.1 percentage points.

Asian-Americans have the highest graduation rate, 83 percent, and whites are next at 78 percent. Fifty-eight percent of Latinos, 57 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Native Americans earned a diploma.

On average, 68 percent of male students earn a diploma compared with 75 percent of female students, a 7-percentage-point gender gap that has remained virtually unchanged for years. High school completion rates for minority males consistently fall near or below the 50 percent mark.

On Community College Spotlight, I’ve got one post after another about high school graduates with B averages ending up in remedial classes at community colleges in California, Pennsylvania and Chicago. It’s depressing to be reminded that nearly a third of students — half of black and Latino males — never earn a diploma. They are doomed in the workforce. Even with a GED, they’re doomed.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I *might* agree that they’re “doomed in the workforce” (assuming that you’re using that word in its modern, negative sense rather than the more neutral classical sense) insofar as really high paying positions working for other people are mostly out of their reach; but that just means that they’re not going to be getting cushy information-age jobs, and that government sinecures might be beyond them for purely regulatory reasons.

    But there’s more to economic subsistence than membership in “the workforce”, and there’s more to life than economic subsistence. Surely some — not all, but some — of the human beings who sit outside Home Depot and wait for manual labor (just to grab an example of people who might not have high school diplomas yet are in the workforce) have moral sense and strong familial loyalties. Some of them have rich emotional lives, and some of them really enjoy a beer on Saturday when they split a six pack with their best friends. They’re not rich, and they don’t live in a nice apartment with a flat-screen TV — there’s a very good chance they live five people to a room– but that’s not all there is to life. Not every street musician has a high school diploma, but some (not all, but some) of them surely are happy, fulfilled people. Does every trash collector have a high school degree? Does McDonald’s not hire GED students? These aren’t glamorous jobs; but it’s hardly being “doomed”.

    I might accept that the odds of a materially plentiful, spiritually enlightened life are long against them, and I might accept that this is a problem that we should want as a society to address. But I don’t accept that a person is doomed, in either sense of the word. To quote one of my favourite books: you should never count a human being out unless you’ve seen their body — and even then you can be wrong.

    Finally, as a high school degree is a modern invention, I’d like to point out (this is just something I’m pointing out, and isn’t related to my argument above) that any “dooming” that not having a high school diploma that goes on is purely a result of attitudes and decisions by people, and certainly is not a natural state. I’m sure most people think I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s something of which we could all use reminding from time to time. It’s not that a person without a high school diploma is never going to succeed — but that it’s unlikely that anyone is going to do anything to help them succeed. The “doom”, if any, is a product of other people’s choices.

  2. Well, since college is the new high school, that makes high school the new – what? Junior high? You’d think we ought to be able to graduate 70% of the population with a jr. high level of education. Unfortunately, a jr-high level education isn’t worth squat.

  3. Lee,

    Prior to the USSC decision Plyler vs Doe (1982), our public schools actually did pretty well, and we had discipline. A student who wanted to drop out wasn’t chased down by the school district, they just let them do it (you could legally drop out at 16 back then).

    We had a sense of what was expected of us by our parents (most of us, anyways), and if we didn’t get it done, there were punishments in store. The high school graduation rate hasn’t changed much over the last 40 years (between 68-75% on average), and the college completion rate has stayed between 27-36% since the early 80’s.

    If teachers were only required to teach the students who actually wanted to be there, I think a lot of kids could learn a great deal in school. Also, prior to the mid 80’s, a high school diploma actually meant something, but these days, a college degree is the new high school diploma (pathetic).

  4. I agree – raising the upper age limit for compulsory education (now 17 in my state; used to be 16 when I was in school) was a misguided idea with bad consequences, as it increases the number of kids who would rather get on with their life than be bored in school. (Actually, I am leaning more and more towards John Taylor Gotto’s views on compulsory education, but that’s another story.)

    Educational decline has been around a rather long time. I’m inclined to believe that an 8th grade education a hundred years ago was a far cry more rigorous than the pablum that’s being offered now (as I’ve witnessed first hand, tutoring an 8th grader who attends a public school in this area that is supposedly head and shoulders above the rest due to its hoidy-toidy reputation of servicing the progeny of doctors, lawyers, investment bankers and other regional bigwigs).

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Don’t get too romantic about the past. 8th grade education was more rigorous 100 years ago than it is today, but in 1911 the high school matriculation rate was something like 20-25%. The graduation rate was half that.

    We’re playing a different game now then people were then — it’s an entirely different educational project. It may not be the wisest undertaking, but we’re doing it.

    And if you liked Gatto’s little history book, you might want to give a look at John Holt and Paul Goodman. Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation is a good book, and Holt’s Instead of Education is a favourite of mine. They are the “thick philosophy” behind Gatto’s semi-polemical history.

  6. Alisa Suggs says:

    I believe if we continue to stress the importance of education to our young people it will finally “sink” in that they cannot have a viable future without an education. The world is becoming more global and instead of competing for jobs in your community or region, we are now competing with individuals all over the world. The salaries for most jobs have decreased and so without an education a young adult cannot make a decent living to take care of himself and his family.

    We as educators have to stress to young individuals that they must stay in school and graduate. They must focus on trying to obtain a career or learn different business techniques, which can assist them with starting their own business. If we as educators don’t stress how critical it is for them to graduate than the rate may regress to the statistics in the past.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    But Alisa, schools don’t teach careers or, except indirectly, business skills.

    Right now we are in the business of selling students, “pie in the sky, by and by.” We tell them that eventually, somehow, the things we are telling them to learn will get them a good job. But it’s largely not true, and they know it.