Graduation rate hits 80%

The high school graduation rate hit 80 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Education Department. If progress continues, the four-year graduation rate could reach 90 percent by 2020.

Graduation rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for African American students from 2006 to 2012, with the Hispanic students graduating at 76 percent and African-American students at 68 percent, the report said.

Fewer students attend “dropout factories” — schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students.

Study: Tracking 9th graders prevents dropouts

Tracking ninth graders’ progress reduced dropout rates in Chicago schools, reports Education Week. Teachers intervened — calling home to report missed classes, helping with homework and other strategies — before students fell too far behind, according to Preventable Failure, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The number of students deemed to be “on-track” for graduation has risen from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent in 2013. Grades have improved for low, average and high achievers.

Following  the graduation rates of students at 20 schools, the study found that student gains in the 9th grade continued through the 10th and 11th grades, resulting in increases in the graduation rate ranging from 8 to 20 percentage points in schools that saw early improvements, to up to 13 percentage points in schools that showed improvements later.

African-American males and students with the weakest skills improved the most.

An “on-track” ninth grader has failed no more than one core subject and earned enough credits to be promoted to the 10th grade.

Graduation rates are climbing in Chicago, notes Ed Week. “Last year the city trumpeted its 65.4 percent graduation rate, a figure that surpassed 2013’s 61.2 percent rate and was significantly higher than the 44 percent rate of nearly a decade ago.”

Ninth grade is the “make-it-or-break-it” year for high school students, concludes a second University of Chicago Consortium study, Free to Fail or On-Track to College.

All students struggle with the transition from middle school to high school, the study found. Grades decline significantly, often because students cut school more and study less. But closer monitoring makes a difference, researchers found.

 (One) school rearranged the school day, scheduling the advisory period as the first class of the day so that tardiness would not become an issue. A teacher also called home every time a student missed class. And the school implemented a discipline policy that relied less on suspensions. Another school reached out to students who received Fs during the semester to find out why they were failing and craft a plan to get them back on track.

It’s easier for small schools to keep track of all students, but Chicago is doing it in larger schools too.

Success paths for all

How can high schools ensure graduates are college- and career-ready, asks an Education Next forum.

Students need multiple pathways, writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus who coleads the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “We have allowed a very important idea—that all students need a solid foundation of core academic knowledge and skills—to morph into a not-so-good idea: that all students need to be prepared to attend a four-year college,” he writes.

If we follow a cohort of 8th graders, roughly 2 in 10 will drop out before high school graduation, and another 3 will graduate high school but choose not to enroll in postsecondary education. Of those who do go on and enroll in four-year institutions, nearly 4 in 10 will drop out before attaining a degree. Of those who enroll in community colleges, roughly 7 in 10 will drop out. The bottom line: by age 25, only 33 percent of the cohort will have attained a four-year degree, and another 10 percent will have earned a two-year degree.

Many good jobs require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, Schwartz writes. He likes the northern European model: “All students pursue a common curriculum up through grade 9 or 10, and then choose between an academics-only pathway leading to university and a more applied-learning pathway leading to a vocational qualification.”

Instead of letting students choose their path, we “force march all students” through a math sequence leading to calculus, a goal few will achieve and even fewer will need, he writes.

Yet most community college students and many university students aren’t prepared for college algebra. “In my view, the vast majority of students in two- and four-year institutions would be much better served by getting a solid grounding in data, statistics, and probability in high school,” he writes.

Common foundational skills are essential, writes Cynthia G. Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. All students should take a college-prep curriculum, but high school students could choose “curricular options that fit their interests, skills, and plans for the future.”

‘New majority’ has low graduation rates

Older and part-time students are the “new majority” on college campuses, but they have low graduation rates. Do we over-invest in non-traditional students? asks an economist.

‘College premium’ is inflated

The “college premium” has been exaggerated by high-profile studies, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad in The Atlantic. So has the payoff for majoring in a STEM field.

Smarter people are more likely to earn a college degree and to major in engineering, science and math, they write.

Only 58 percent of new college students who began in 2004 had graduated six years later, according to federal data. “Dropout rates are even higher at less selective colleges, whose students are presumably most on the margin between attending college following high school and entering the workforce.”

Calculating returns to education only for those who attend college and graduate is like measuring stock returns for Google while ignoring those for General Motors.

High school students who go on to college are quite different from those go directly to the workforce, they write.

(The collegebound) took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college . . .

Controlling for “both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics” cuts the “earnings boost attributable to college attendance” in half, write Biggs and Haddad.

Graduates in technical fields earn significantly more than graduates in “softer” majors, studies have shown. “High school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores,” write Biggs and Haddad. “High-paying jobs also entail longer work hours.”

Lost credits hurt transfer students

Lost credits make it difficult for community college transfers to earn a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new study. Fifty-eight percent of students transfer with at least 90 percent of their credits; 14 percent lose 90 percent or more of their credits.

The average full-time student completes 136.5 credits for a 120-degree bachelor’s degree, estimates Complete College America.

California’s associate degree for transfer is smoothing the path for community college graduates seeking bachelor’s degrees, but not all state universities are “saying yes” to transfer students.

Obama proposes graduation bonuses

President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years to reward colleges that do a good job of graduating Pell Grant recipients. It also funds development of a college ratings system.

Charter grads go farther, earn more

Charter high school students go farther in school and earn more as adults, concludes a Mathematica study. Researchers followed Florida and Chicago charter eighth graders for 11 years, comparing those who attended a charter high school and classmates who went to a traditional high school.

Charter students don’t earn higher test scores, on average, unless they attend “no excuses” charters, previous research has found. However, they’re significantly more likely than similar students to complete high school and enroll in college. 

. . . students attending Chicago and Florida charter high schools were 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than comparison groups of students who attended charter middle schools but matriculated to traditional public high schools.

The former charter high students earned more at age 25 than the control group, Mathematica found. That suggests charter high schools “are endowing students with skills, knowledge, work habits, motivation, and values that are important for long-term success but are not fully captured by test scores.”

Put job training first

For-profit career colleges have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, writes a community college dean who’s worked in both sectors. That’s because for-profit career colleges put job training first.

See jocks run — but not read

Some college athletes play like adults, but read like 5th-graders, reports Sara Ganim for CNN. Tutors help them, as long as they can play.  Then they drop out or graduate with a degree they still can’t read.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 60 percent of football and basketball players admitted in 2004 to 2012 read at the fourth- to eighth-grade level, reports Mary Willingham, a former tutor for the athletic department.  Eight to 10 percent read below a third-grade level, according to her research.

Some were enrolled in “laughably lax” African-American Studies classes. Professor Julius Nyang’oro now faces fraud charges: He was paid $12,000 to teach a class that never met. 

It’s not just UNC, Ganim writes. About 10 percent of University of Oklahoma athletes in revenue-generating sports read below a fourth-grade level, according to Oklahoma Professor Gerald Gurney.

At most schools, seven to 18 percent of football and basketball players read at an elementary level, a CNN investigation concluded.

Intensive tutoring can close the gap by junior year, said Robert Stacey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington.

Former and current academic advisers, tutors and professors say it’s nearly impossible to jump from an elementary to a college reading level while juggling a hectic schedule as an NCAA athlete. They say the NCAA graduation rates are flawed because they don’t reflect when a student is being helped too much by academic support.

“They’re pushing them through,” said Billy Hawkins, an associate professor and athlete mentor at the University of Georgia. “They’re graduating them. UGA is graduating No. 2 in the SEC, so they’re able to graduate athletes, but have they learned anything? . . . To get a degree is one thing, to be functional with that degree is totally different.”

Some universities refused to cooperate with CNN, but others provided more details on football and basketball players’ SAT or ACT scores and other data.

Many black male athletes end up with no degree and few job prospects, writes Isiah Thomas, a former pro basketball player now working on a master’s in education at Berkeley. “Only 65 percent of African American basketball student-athletes graduated in 2013,” writes Thomas and co-author Na’ilah Suad Nasir, an associate professor of African American Studies and Education.  Berkeley’s graduation rate for black male basketball players in 2013 was 33 percent.