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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/8/13

High School Graduation Rates Reveal Our National Shame

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Educational achievement is a long range predictor of a nations economic health and well being.  In advanced economies a great deal depends on scientific and technical achievements, which begin with educational excellence.   

The World Economic Forum recently published a study on global business competitiveness that ranks 144 nations according to indicators in 12 categories.  While the United State ranked 7th in the world over all, our ranking in primary and secondary education measures were alarming. The United States ranked 58th on primary school enrollments and 38th on the quality of our primary education.  We ranked 47th in secondary school enrollment and 47th on the quality of math and science education.  (See report summary here )
Now the U.S. Department of Education has released a report detailing  four-year high school graduation rates in 2010-2011.   This is the first year in which all states used a common, rigorous measure. For the first time ever high school graduation rates can be meaningfully compared across all 50 states .  The DOE report states:
"The varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable, while the new, common metric can be used by states, districts and schools to promote greater accountability and to develop strategies that will reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.
The new, uniform rate calculation is not comparable in absolute terms to previously reported rates. Therefore, while 26 states reported lower graduation rates and 24 states reported unchanged or increased rates under the new metric, these changes should not be viewed as measures of progress but rather as a more accurate snapshot. "
See States Four Year Graduation Rates here:  In reading the summary below please keep in mind that no data was available from Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma or Puerto Rico and some other states had data missing as well.  

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What the New Report On High School Graduation Rates Has Found
The highest graduation rate achieved by any state is in Iowa, which had an 88% high school graduation rate.  Wisconsin and Vermont were right behind with an 87% graduation rate.  The lowest high school graduation rate was just 59% in the District of Colombia.  Among the sovereign states, the lowest graduation rates  were in Nevada (62%), New Mexico (63%), Georgia (67%), Alaska and Oregon  (both at 68%).  Thirteen states have high school graduation rate at or below 75%. 
When it comes to race and ethnicity, the graduation rates for Latino children in Maine and Hawaii are slightly better then for white students.  In every other state the rates were lower for both Black and Latino students, and significantly so in some states.  In Minnesota and Nevada Black student had a graduation rate below 50%.  The disparity in Minnesota was stark.  White students in Minnesota graduate at a rate of 84% while the Latino graduation rate was 51%  and only 49% of Black students graduated.  These numbers and other dramatic disparities among the states are a national disgrace.
Even more startling is the low graduation rates and huge rate disparity for children with disabilities.  Graduation rates for these children ranged from a high of 77% in Texas, 75% in Arkansas and 73% in both Kansas and New Jersey to a low of 23% in Mississippi and Nevada. Only 33 states had graduation rates above 50% among children with disabilities. Children in states like Louisiana, where 29% graduated, can't be that much more severely handicapped then children in Pennsylvania where 71% of  handicapped children graduated.  

Children with limited English proficiency also graduated at lower rates in most states, but especially in Nevada (29%) and Arizona (25%). Students with limited English proficiency actually had better graduation rates in West Virginia (79%) than white children who grew up speaking English (77%).  In states as diverse as Arkansas and Maine limited English proficiency was not  a barrier at all. Nineteen states have high school graduation rates of less than 50% for children for whom English is not their primary language.
It seems that low graduation rates for children with disabilities or limited English proficiency is not closely correlated with economic disadvantage.  There were no states in which the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged children fell below 50%, yet graduation rates for disabled children or non-English speaking children did fall below 50% in some states.  In Arizona, for example, economically disadvantaged students had a 73% graduation rate while students with disabilities had a 67% rate of graduation and only 25% of students who needed help learning English graduated.  In the case of Mississippi, economically disadvantaged students graduate at a rate of 69% but only 23% of disabled children graduate high school.
What's going on here?  From the broad strokes of this report it would seem that poor educational outcomes are less the result of poverty and more the result of the intentional neglect of certain classes of children. This may be too harsh a judgement, but it is very difficult to explain why non-English speaking children can do so well in West Virginia yet so poorly in Arizona.  No matter how you look at this data, it is clear that the United States is heading for national decline if we don't improve these educational outcomes. 
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Brian Lynch is a retired social worker who worked in the areas of adult mental health and child protection for many years. His work brought him into direct contact with all the major social issues of the day and many of our basic social (more...)

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