Amid decades-long speculation that the public school system in the U.S. is getting worse, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that for the first in history, the U.S. high school graduation rate stands at 80 percent. This new milestone means that four out of five of the nation’s students are graduating. The surge in the graduation rate can be partly attributed to the significant gains among Latino and African American students. There was a 15 percentage point increase in the graduation of Hispanics from 2006 to 2012. Among black students it was a 9 percentage point increase. This information comes from the, “2014 Building a GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic” report released April 28 by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education. Coincidentally, the report was presented at the “2014 Building A GradNation Summit” where the Secretary Duncan spoke.
“As a country, we owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers, students and families whose hard work has helped reach an 80 percent high school graduation rate,” Duncan said at the summit hosted by America’s Promise, a nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powel, in Washington D.C. “But even as we celebrate this remarkable achievement, out students have limitless potential, and we owe it all of our children to work together so they all can achieve at higher levels.”
Long seen as a measure of success, policymakers, educators, and advocates have tried to increase the graduation rate in high schools by trying to find ways of decreasing the number of students who drop out of high school. The report gives some hope pertaining to that. The number of students who enroll in so called “drop out factories”— schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students— has dropped 47 percent in the past decade. In addition, around 15 percent of Hispanic students attended one of these schools compared with 39 percent a decade earlier.
The data used in the report was collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. The 80 percent rate is based on calculating the number of graduates in a given year and then divided by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. Adjustments are made for transfer students. In the past, states had different systems in terms of calculating the high school graduation rate. It was not until 2008, in which the Bush Administration ordered all states to begin using this method. The streamlining of how states calculate high school graduation rates has allowed for a more individualized focused approach in terms of how researchers are able to track the progress of students through the four years of school.
While this milestone is quite historic, educators and policymakers are now looking at the next task: the 2020 goal. The plan calls for the country to hit the 90 percent graduation mark. This, of course, will not be easy, due in part with the education gap between high and low achieving states. Not to mention the high school graduation rates for Hispanics and Blacks is still lower than those of Whites. Yet, this new milestone has given many a new sense of hope, a feeling that we should not give up on any student regardless of their income or race, and perhaps that continuing mentality will help us achieve the 2020 goal.
Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.