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February 20, 2014

High school graduation rate at an all-time high

NAEPSecretary Duncan proudly wore number 80 on his jersey at the NBA celebrity All-Star game this past weekend— as well he should’ve. It just so happens the number 80 represents one of the best kept secrets in education: our national on-time graduation rate.

This may come as a shock to many as popular perception tends to be the myth that our public schools are flatlining. But the facts show otherwise, as recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show our national on-time graduation rate for our public high schools now stands at 80 percent— an all-time high.  It’s quite an accomplishment considering the rate hovered around 71 percent for much of the 1990s.

And keep in mind, the 80 percent graduation rate represents only those students who earned a standard high school diploma within four years of entering high school so it doesn’t include students who earned a high school equivalency (ex GED) or certificates of completion. Nor does it include those students who took more than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As our report on late high school graduates Better Late Than Never found, including late high school graduates would likely add more than 5 percentage points to the national graduation rate. So the actual national graduation rate is quite likely closer to 90 than 80 percent.

What is even more impressive about these gains is that our high schools are serving an ever more diverse student population. Yet the overall graduation rate increased due to the substantial gains made by minority students. The on-time graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from 64 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2011. During this same time period the on-time graduation rate for black students improved from 61 percent to 67 percent. These are tremendous gains made in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s not overlook the fact that the graduation rate also continued to climb for white students during this same time period (81 to 84 percent).

While these are numbers worth celebrating they also show there is much more work to be done. The attainment gap between minority and white students needs to be closed. While they have narrowed in recent years, the narrowing needs to accelerate so minority students who are just entering school now will have the same chance to graduate as their white classmates.

Of course, simply giving students a diploma will not help them get a job or get into college. So, the diplomas they do receive must represent that fact that these students have completed courses they need to get into and succeed in college or get a quality job after high school. While there is more work to be done to ensure all students leave college and career ready, the data clearly shows our public schools are up the challenge. – Jim Hull

3 responses to “High school graduation rate at an all-time high”

  1. Dorothy Gallagher says:

    I am delighted to hear this. And you are right, the public still believe the myth that our students are failing and our public schools are failing. That is one reason why I believe parents are looking to Charter Schools. They believe this myth and they only want the best for their children. Its too bad that there are people out there taking advantage of them by selling the idea that a paid for profit school is better for their child.

  2. Dr. Armand A. Fusco says:

    I do not believe this number; I no longer trust government stats. I am a researcher, and based on on-going evidence, this number of 80% just doesn’t fly. Urban districts have a grad rate of about 50% (I just published a book, School Pushouts: A Plague of Hopelessness Perpetrated by Zombie Schools (2012). It is all researched based. In addition, I published School Corruption: Betrayal of Children and the Public Trust in 2005. It is full of cheating and deceitful practices of districts lying about their graduation rates. In Conn, according to Ed Week data, graduation rates are overstated by 20 points. And this is probably true in most other states.
    The National Center gets their stats from the states and it is obvious their data is overstated and not reliable.

  3. Jim Hull says:

    Thank you Dr. Fusco for your insights. You are correct that for years most states have overstated their graduation rates as CT did which we discussed in our report on Calculating High School Graduation Rates (http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Policies/Calculating-high-school-graduation-rates-At-a-glance-) back in 2006. However, much has changed since then. Every state now calculates their high school graduation rates in a similar manner which provides a much more accurate assessment of how many students are graduating.

    I should also point out The 80 percent rate I talk about in my post is similar to the rate EdWeek has published over the past decade or so. So the rise in the graduation rate is in no way due to the government cooking the books. However, you are absolutely correct that our graduation rates are much too low in many of our urban high schools but yet evidence presented by researchers at John Hopkins University shows that many more students in large urban districts are now graduating high school. The number of the so-called “Drop Out Factories” has dropped significantly in just the past five years. Yes, there is still a ways to go to close the graduation gap between low-income/minority students and their white/higher-income peers but the data from multiple sources–private and public– all show our nation’s public schools have made tremendous strides in the past decade to graduate more students with a standard high school diploma.

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