High school grad rate could hit 90%

U.S. high schools are graduating more students and could reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, according to Building a Grad Nation by America’s Promise Alliance.

Gains were strong for minority students: African-American students saw a 6.9 percent increase in graduation rates from 2006 to 2020, and Hispanic students had a 10.4 percent increase.

In the Davis Guggenheim documentary “Waiting for Superman,” Americans learned about “dropout factories,” high schools where fewer than half of all students graduated on time. Bob Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University professor, coined that term — and in the report out Monday, he found that the number of “dropout factories” has declined. In 2011, according to the report, there were 583 fewer such schools than there were in 2002. “The schools have gotten better, and some have closed,” Balfanz said.

In 2002, 46 percent of black students and 39 percent of Hispanics attended a high school where most students failed to graduate. By  2011, that fell to 25 percent for backs and 17 percent for Hispanics.

1/4 quit high school — and that’s progress

High school graduation rates increased from 72 percent to 75.5 percent from 2001 to 1009, concludes a new Building a Grad Nation Report. More than half the states increased graduation rates. The number of “dropout factories” — high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer students on time — decreased significantly.


A drop in ‘dropout factories’

The number of  “dropout factories” — schools with graduation rates under 60 percent — declined by 6.4 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to a report released today for the kick-of of the Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington.

Since 2002, there’s been a 20 percent drop in the number of students attending dropout factories, concludes the report by the Johns Hopkins University Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and Civic Enterprises, which are hosting the summit with the Alliance for Excellent Education.

California, South Carolina, Illinois and North Carolina showed the most improvement, while the number of  high-dropout schools increased in Georgia, New York and Ohio. State data is here.

At the summit today, reports College Bound, Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, suggested districts use “new comparison data on graduation rates to shape targeted efforts, follow students over time with longitudinal data to see how their high school success is linked to their postsecondary success, and look at case studies of schools that have turned around their graduation rates using enhanced student supports and early-warning systems.”

The goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate is achievable, said John Bridgeland, president of Civic Enterprises.

“We will focus in like a laser on dropout-factory high schools and look at the feeder middle schools and elementary schools,” said Bridgeland.

. . . Bridgeland said many schools have early-warning systems in place in 9th grade, but that’s too late. They should be as early as the 4th or 5th grade. Mentors can also help off-track students, and states should raise the compulsory age that students are allowed to drop out, suggested Bridgeland.

Also at the summit, Vice President Joe Biden pitched President Obama’s college-completion goals, suggesting governors link funding to performance, align high school standards with college entrance and placement standards, simplify transfers, use data to drive decisions and target adults with “some college” but no degree.

Obama’s goal — a 60 percent college graduation rate by 2020 — ignores many students, Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz told the Washington Post.

Schwartz heads the Pathways to Prosperity Project, which released a study in February concluding that the U.S. education system should offer greater emphasis on occupational instruction.

“What’s the strategy for the other 40 percent of people?” he said. “We can’t keep saying, ‘College for all, college for all’ and yet set targets that even if you could meet them are going to leave out very large proportions of young people.”

In Massachusetts, the highest performing state, only 54 percent of adults have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree. In Arkansas, Nevada and New Mexico, the college graduation rate is 28 percent.