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April 29, 2014

Great news about our public schools

demanding parentWith 80 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2012 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically since 2006, improving by eight percentage points in just six years. According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.

While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate jumped from 61 percent to 76 percent between 2006 and 2012 alone. Black students made significant gains during this period as well improving their graduation rate from 59 percent to 68 percent. During this same time period White students saw their graduation rate improve from 80 percent to 85 percent. At these rates the attainment gap between Hispanic and White students will disappear within five years. It would take another decade for the Black/White attainment gap to close completely.

While this is certainly good news it actually doesn’t provide a complete picture of the success in raising high school graduate rates. This is because these are only on-time graduation rates and do not include those students who take longer than four years to earn a standard high school diploma. As CPE found in our report about late high school graduates, Better Late Than Never, our national high school graduation rate is likely about 5 percentage points higher if we include students who graduate within six years. This means that our public schools are likely graduating at least 85 percent of students. And since Black and Hispanic students are more likely to graduate late than their White classmates, the attainment gap is likely to be narrower as well. These are graduates who are far too often over looked as successes even though, as the Grad Nation report pointed out, districts across the nation have made significant efforts to get students back on the graduation track or re-enroll students who had dropped out completely to help them earn the same diplomas as their peers who graduated on-time. – Jim Hull






July 18, 2013

Lowest performing schools to get helping hands from AmeriCorps

Turnaround Yesterday, the US Department of Education announced the winners in the first round of an inaugural program aimed at improving persistently low-achieving schools. Yes, I know this sounds familiar.

Competitive grant programs have become a staple at ED, much to the consternation of many on the Hill. But the wisdom and the efficacy of making financially strapped-states and school districts scrap for funds to address the poorest-performing schools in the nation is a discussion best left for another time and another blog— although, in truth, adequate funding and performance are hard to separate.

Regardless, the announcement caught my attention for another reason.

ED had initially announced the launch of the School Turnaround AmeriCorps program— a $15 million joint effort with the Corporation for National and Community Service that would place 650 AmeriCorps members in about 70 of the worst-performing schools— back in February on the heels of yet another report showing how America’s high school dropout problem was costing this country:  $1.8 billion in tax revenue each year, to be exact.

We were in the midst of pulling together a report of our own, an analysis of the so-called school turnaround strategies being rolled into many federal and state education programs with frightening speed.

What we discovered in Which Way Up was even more frightening. To begin with, very little data exists regarding the effectiveness of the four basic intervention models (school closure, restart, transformation and turnaround) embedded in competitions like Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grant program. And the research that has been conducted on these strategies shows mixed outcomes, at best.

Yes, first-year data from ED on the progress of School Improvement Grant recipients is mostly positive, particularly at the elementary level. But as we all know, one year’s worth of data does not a trend make.

And stories from the field and just plain common-sense, suggests that drastic measures like shuttering schools and wholesale replacement of staff, are disruptive and not necessarily in the good and moving forward kind of way.

Which is why I’m more than curious about how this latest initiative will serve the students, staff and communities in these chronically underperforming schools. These schools deserve our attention and I don’t need to run down the laundry list of why, when really the question has always been “how.”

How do we raise the achievement at these schools? And how do we make sure those changes are sustainable and not just a one-off?

I hope flooding these schools with dedicated, cause-driven individuals, the type that usually are drawn to AmeriCorps work, is the answer. But then again … aren’t those the same types who are usually drawn to schools and teaching?  Hmm, I guess we better go back and look at the strategy.






June 7, 2013

Big improvement in high school graduation rates

High School Graduation Rate Climbs to Highest Point in 40 Years

The annual Diplomas Count report, courtesy of the newspaper Education Week (EdWeek), was released yesterday, showing yet another steady increase in the national graduation rate over the past three years. EdWeek defines graduates as students who earn a standard diploma or better in four years. Along with the national graduation rate, EdWeek also provides graduation rates by state showing the trends from 2000 to 2010 and a breakdown by student subgroups. This year’s edition also highlights several articles concerning targeted dropout prevention and recovery programs throughout the country.

Overall, the report provides promising evidence that high schools across the country are nearing historic graduation levels. These upward trends also pave the way for promising future results, with significant gains to be had by students of racial minority backgrounds.

Encouraging Findings

  • The national on-time graduation rate reached 74.7 percent for the class of 2010.  This level parallels achievement in 1973, and is a nearly 2 percentage-point increase from the class of 2009.  
    • This is the third year of increases following modest declines in 2006 and 2007.
    • Over the past decade, the graduation rate improved by 8 percentage points (66.7 percent in 2000 to 74.7 percent in 2010).
    • Forty-six states have seen increases in their graduation rates over the past decade, with gains ranging from less than a percentage point to almost 32 points.
  • Continued improvements for historically underserved minorities bolster national graduation rate increases from 2009 to 2010.
    • Latinos saw an impressive 5.4 percentage point increase over this period.
    • African-Americans progressed upward by 3.3 percentage points.
  • From 2009 to 2010, the number of states graduating 80 percent or more of high school students rose from 4 to 13.
    • Iowa (83.2), New Jersey (83.1), North Dakota (84), and Wisconsin (83.7) were joined by Connecticut (82.2), Idaho (80), Kansas (80), Maine (80.5), Minnesota (80.4), Missouri (80.7), Pennsylvania (83), Tennessee (80.3), and Vermont (85).
  • Eight states showed increases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Connecticut (6.2 point increase to 82.2), Delaware (6 point increase to 73.9), Idaho (7.9 point increase to 80), Illinois (6.6 point increase to 77.8 percent), Kentucky (6.7 point increase to 77.2), Maine (8.2 point increase to 80.5), South Dakota (6.8 point increase to 76.3), and Vermont (7.6 point increase to 85).
  • All major ethnic and racial groups have shown overall improvement since 2000.
    • Latinos have produced significant gains of 16.3 percentage points, decreasing the Latino-White graduation gap.
    • African-American graduation rates have improved by 13.2 percentage points, causing a substantial narrowing of the African-American-White gap.
    • Native Americans have increased graduation rates over the decade, but fell by 2 percentage points from 2009 to 2010. This subgroup lags behind other ethnic groups with 51 percent of students graduating in 2010.  
  • An astounding 46 states have demonstrated decade-long growth in graduation rates.
    • Florida, George, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont each boast double-digit increases since 2000.

Findings of Concern

  • Graduation performance varies greatly by state.
    • Less than two-thirds of students earn their diploma in the District of Columbia (57), Georgia (64), Mississippi (64.4), Nevada (62.7), New Mexico (59.4), and South Carolina (61.5).
    • The largest state-level gap exists between the District of Columbia and Vermont, with a 28-percentage point disparity.
  • Male and female students are not graduating at comparable rates.
    • In 2010, 71.9 percent of males graduated compared to 78.4 percent of females.
    • This 6.5 percentage-point gap is a slight improvement on the 6.8 percent variance in 2009 (with 69.6 percent of males and 76.4 percent of females graduating).
  • Minority students are less likely to graduate than their White and Asian peers.
    • There is a 30-percentage-point gap dividing Asian (81.1 percent) and Native American (51.1 percent) students, the groups with the highest and lowest graduation rates, respectively. 
    • Significant graduation gaps exist across racial lines. The gap between Latinos (68.1 percent) and Whites (79.6 percent) is 11.5 percentage-points, while the gap between Black (61.7 percent) and White students is 17.9 percentage points.
  • Three states showed decreases of at least 5.0 percentage points from 2009-2010.
    • Arizona (5.1 point decrease to 67.2), New York (5.1 point decrease to 73.3), and Utah (7.1 point decrease to 71.3) each exhibited significant drop-offs in graduation rates.

For more information on how Education Week and others calculate graduation rates, check out the Center for Public Education’s Straight Story on High School Graduation Rates. Furthermore, check out the Center’s Better Late than Never to learn more about those students who took more than four years to graduate.

This summary was prepared by Christine Duchouquette, Policy Research Intern, and Jim Hull, Senior Policy Analyst for NSBA’s Center for Public Education.






September 18, 2012

Every 26 Seconds

Nearly every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. While that statistic is likely overstated, the problem of high school dropouts is not. Even in the best of economic conditions high school dropouts face tremendous challenges, and those challenges are increased exponentially when the economy slows down (let alone completely stall as it has over the past 5 years).

This is why State Farm and America’s Promise Alliance came together to launch their 26 Second Campaign to encourage students to stay in school until they earn a high school diploma. Teens can head to the 26 Second Facebook page to sign a pledge as well as to take part in monthly activities to win prizes and learn more about the perils of dropping out all in an effort to promote the importance of earning a high school diploma.

I applaud State Farm and America’s Promise Alliance for encouraging students to graduate high school. All too often high school students fail to recognize the long-term impact of making such a major detrimental decision as dropping out. Without a shadow of a doubt, students would be much better off staying in school and earning a high school diploma.

But the benefits do not lie simply with the individual student. For certain, our economy and our society would be better off if fewer students dropped out of high school as well. While the decision to drop out is up to the student, schools play a vital role as well. As noted in The Center’s Keeping Kids in School report, schools can drastically reduce dropouts by:

  • Identifying potential dropouts early.
  • Providing those students with high quality intervention.
  • Organizing the school programs to prevent students from becoming at-risk of dropping out in the first place.
  • Putting in place recovery programs for those students that do slip through the cracks, which drastically reduces the number of students who would have dropped out if such programs were not in place.

By combining the 26 Second Campaign’s encouragement of individual students to graduate as well as the schools’ efforts to keep students in school, we can accelerate the gains in high school graduation rates we have seen over the past couple of years. – Jim Hull

Filed under: Dropouts,Graduation rates,High school — Tags: , , , — Jim Hull @ 8:46 am





July 3, 2012

Early Warning Indicator Systems: Challenges With Implementation

I recently attended a briefing on Early Warning Indicator Systems (EWIS) in public schools.  I find it fascinating that we can predict that a sixth grader has a 75 percent chance of dropping out of high school if they exhibit just one of these three factors:

  • Poor behavior
  • Poor attendance
  • Failure in English or Math

Dropouts are not  a problem relagated to high schools, as most future dropouts show warning signs as early as elementary and middle school.  As the Center’s report Keeping Kids in School found, half of all dropouts showed warning signs by 8th grade.  Now that we know this, we can target them with specialized help during transitional school years.  If we wait until ninth grade, it could be too late to help, especially since a majority of dropouts leave in the ninth and tenth grades.

Three main problems have to be addressed when implementing these systems in schools.  First, teachers need support.  The way schools operate right now in many schools is that one teacher monitors a large group of students.  For EWIS to work, this has to be flipped.  A group of teachers and mentors have to discuss individual students.  This can be time consuming, but some schools use outside help from mentor/volunteer programs like AmeriCorps to help understand the issues surrounding a student’s absenteeism or behavioral problems.  The second problem is that in some schools, more professional social services will be needed.  This can be costly, but the increased cost of more counselors, social workers, and other professionals will ultimately be returned in savings from preventing students from repeating grades or dropping out.  Finally, the last problem with implementing these systems is integrating them throughout the school.  Schools are organized by grades, or by subjects.  To a student however, their school is the collection of teachers that they see every day.  We need to organize schools so that teachers with the same students can communicate and create consistent behavior standards from classroom to classroom. 

Every school should have consistent and open data on the amount of absenteeism in their schools.  It may take some work, but research shows us how important it is for a student to be in school every day; not just in high school, but in elementary and middle school.  - Kasey Klepfer






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