By Eric Schulzke
National high school graduation rates topped 80 percent for the first time. Nevada brought up the rear with 69 percent, while Iowa led the way with 89 percent.
"The growth has been spurred by such factors as a greater awareness of the dropout problem and efforts by districts, states and the federal government to include graduation rates in accountability measures. Among the initiatives are closing 'dropout factory' schools," the AP reported. "In addition, schools are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists who work with students one on one, to keep teenagers in class, researchers said."
The good news, writes John Bridgeland at Huffington Post, comes after an intensive effort over several years to shine light on a festering problem.
"For decades, more than 1 million students failed to graduate with their class every year," Bridgeland writes. "Many left school because they did not see a connection between classroom learning and their career dreams. Some students were absent so much they could never catch up, and others had real-life events — needing to get a job, having a child or caring for a family member — that made graduating from high school a distant dream."
Much of the recent statistical gains were found among African-American and Hispanic students, notes America's Promise, the prominent nonprofit founded in 1997 that helped push the high school graduation into the forefront of the national consciousness.
According to America's Promise, African-American on-time graduation rose from 59 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2012. Latino graduation rates jumped even more sharply, up from 61 to 76 percent over the same period.
Vast disparities remain between low-income and higher-income students, and the performance gaps vary widely between states.
"In Minnesota, just 59 percent of low-income students graduate, compared with 87 percent of their wealthier peers," Politico noted. "The disparity between income groups is almost as big in Colorado, Connecticut, South Dakota and Wyoming." Meanwhile, in Indiana, Texas and Hawaii, graduation rates for low-income students nearly match the overall graduation rate.
John Bridgeland points out that some of the state-to-state gaps remain startling. "Graduation rates for students with disabilities are 24 percent in Nevada, while in Kansas and Montana, they are 77 and 81 percent, respectively."
"If the rate of improvement over the past few years is maintained, the country would see a 90 percent rate by 2020, meeting the goal set by America’s Promise Alliance, the group founded by former secretary of state Colin Powell that produced the report with other organizations," notes Niraj Chokshi at the Washington Post.
"The national rate has risen an average 1.3 percentage points annually since 2006," Chokshi adds. "Hispanic students have seen graduation rates grow 15 percentage points since then, while graduation rates for African-Americans rose nine percentage points. Still, they lag behind their white counterparts. Whites have an 85 percent graduation rate, compared to 76 percent for Hispanics and 68 percent for blacks."
Some states are taking innovative approaches to improve their graduation numbers. "Confronted with huge numbers of students who could not pass the math exam required for high school graduation," Politico noted, "the Nevada Board of Education recently lowered the score needed to pass, from 300 to 242 points out of 500."