Of the 1.23 million high school students who will fail to graduate this year, minority students are the most at risk, according to new data recently released by Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPE).
While nationally, 71 percent of ninth-graders make it to graduation four years later, the figure drops for Hispanic, Black and Native American students — 58, 55, and 51 percent respectively.
The new data highlighted in “Diplomas Count 2008: School to College: Can State P-16 Councils Ease the Transition?” details graduation information for every U.S. district and state, along with other new information, including the estimated number of students in the 2008 class who dropped out before graduating.
EPE, which publishes pre-collegiate education newspaper Education Week, aims to help raise the level of awareness and understanding among professionals and the public of important issues in American education.
Its new study found the new data using enrollment and graduation rates as opposed to drop-out rates from various U.S. states. The information was based upon 2005 numbers because those numbers were the most up-to-date information available.
Christopher B. Swanson, director of the EPE Research Center, said in a conference call Wednesday that another way to think about the 1.23 million struggling students was to think of the number as one student lost from the high school-to-college pipeline every 13 seconds.
During the call, Swanson shared that minority males are most at risk for not graduating from high school. Poorly-funded school systems and community issues were among some of the reasons cited for low graduation rates.
The project, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, revealed in Diplomas Count 2008 that between 2001 and 2005 the nation’s graduation rate increased by 2.6 percentage points revealing a slow, but steady improvement.
The District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina had the lowest graduation rates.
Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Vermont were among the states with the higher graduation rates.
New Jersey, for example, had an 83.3 percent graduation rate among its students. Swanson had a possible explanation for why the numbers in the northeastern state might be so high.
“There might be a wrinkle in the numbers we’re seeing,” Swanson said. He noted that in New Jersey there is a “liberal use of waiver” for students who might not have met the minimum graduation requirements.
The report was not without criticism. Some critics say that the high number of students not graduating this year is an exaggerated and inaccurate number largely based on the academic success of ninth-grade students.
Swanson responded to that criticism saying that while there are typically more ninth-graders, many of those students have been retained. Swanson added that retention was one of the leading factors causing students to dropout.
According to a release by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), most of the public school systems based in SREB’s states made progress, but need to improve. Twelve out of the 16 SREB states had higher estimated graduation rates than last year’s report.
The highest-ranked SREB state was Maryland, which tied for the 23rd national position at 73.6 percent.
Ten SREB states achieved graduation levels below the national average of 71 percent.
SREB President Dave Spence responded to the numbers in a release saying that high school graduation rates was one of the region’s most devastating problems for its economy and society. He also said that many state leaders are now seeing the direct link between low graduation rates and economic and social ills.
This year was the first time the organization included information about the graduation gaps for every U.S. congressional district.
Swanson said that this will allow lawmakers and public officials to assess the districts they serve and to help them better understand the progress of the district’s education system.
The information will not allow a completely accurate assessment, he said, adding that the congressional districts don’t always overlap systematically.
Some state leaders have already responded to the dilemma, including some in the SREB states.
According to a release, Georgia governor and SREB chair Sonny Perdue is leading a committee of state leaders to help develop state policy recommendations for helping high schools meet both graduation rates and student achievement measures.
Aside from data about each U.S. congressional district, the data also revealed that state-level P-16 councils are increasingly popular but often lack support and a clear agenda necessary for success.
P-16 councils sometimes referred to as “K-20” or “P-20” councils are state-created entities established to help foster a collaboration between different levels of education, including Pre-K, primary, secondary and postsecondary levels.
According to Amy M. Hightower, deputy director of the EPE Research Center, these P-16 councils’ ability to increase graduation rates has been questioned and the study puts a new emphasis on the fairly new groups, most of which started in 2005.
Four councils were launched just this year. Today there are 40 councils total in 32 states. The report found that early learning and workforce development agencies rarely play a role in these councils. Rather, K-12 education departments, higher education agencies or the governor’s office are mostly involved.
Hightower described these councils as transitional movements and said that they also aim to remedy a problematic situation in education.
“The educational sectors in the state are disconnected from each other and the economy,” she said.
Hightower added that many people believe that if these different sectors come together to help plan and structure transition points for students, there will be lower remediation initiatives and higher graduation rates, thus making students more likely to make the transition to college.
One of the most discussed issues with the EPE’s recently revealed numbers was the difference in the graduation rates reported by state governments and the organization. According to EPE researchers, some states have improved the way in which they tally their schools’ graduation rates.
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