With new data showing persistently low high school graduation rates in America’s large cities, the Bush administration outlined plans on Tuesday to hold states more accountable for accurate reporting of both graduates and dropout rates.
“Many urban districts graduate as few as 25 to 35 percent of students on time, compared to 75 percent in suburban districts. And it’s no surprise that poor and minority students are far more likely to suffer from this ‘silent epidemic,’” said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
Inconsistent data reporting and definitions add to this silent crisis, she said. In some districts, a student may be a dropout only if he or she declares such status. In other locations, a student’s promise to seek a General Educational Development (GED) test at some future date is sufficient to show graduate status.
“With such loose definitions of what it means to graduate, it’s no wonder this epidemic has been so silent,” she said.
Spellings said the Education Department would take “administrative steps” to ensure all states use the same formula for determining graduation rates. That data would be made public. Spellings said that viewing data by income and ethnic group “is a powerful motivator for change and improvement and especially for closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers.”
The secretary made her pledge at a Washington, D.C., meeting convened by America’s Promise, a youth-focused organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. In setting the context for the meeting, the Powells released a new study concluding that only half of all students in the main school systems of the 50 largest U.S. cities graduate high school.
In some cases, the disparity in graduation rates is more than 35 percentage points between inner-city school districts and more affluent suburban areas.
“When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem. It’s a catastrophe,” Colin Powell said.
“It’s time for a national ‘call to arms,’ because we cannot afford to let nearly one-third of our kids fail.”
Among large cities, Detroit had the lowest graduation rate at 24.9 percent, followed by Indianapolis and Cleveland at 30 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Seventeen cities, including Atlanta, Denver, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, had graduation rates below 50 percent, says the report Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic report on High School Graduation.
Editorial Projects in Education Research Center developed the report using the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), which sets the rate based on the number of incoming ninth graders in a district who graduate within four years.
For example, 592,000 9th graders in large cities began ninth grade in fall 2003, the study noted. But only 306,000, or 52 percent, graduated on time with the class of 2007. As a result, the study noted, “graduating from high school in America’s largest cities amounts, essentially, to a coin toss.”
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