High school graduation rate rises in U.S.

More high school students across the country are graduating on time but dropouts continue to be a significant national problem, creating a drag on the economy, according to a report to be issued Monday by a nonprofit group headed by former secretary of state Colin L. Powell.

The national graduation rate increased to 75.5 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2001. And the number of “dropout factories” — high schools where at least 60 percent of students do not graduate on time — fell from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,550 in 2010.

“The number of kids attending these dropout factories is down by one-third, and that points to progress that states have made in reforming schools, closing them or giving kids other options,” said Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, which produced the “Building a Grad Nation” report along with America’s Promise Alliance and Civic Enterprises.

The organizations have been tracking graduation rates since 2002 and report them annually.

“We have continued to make good progress, but we also have much work ahead to achieve our goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate,’’ Powell and his wife, Alma J. Powell, wrote in a letter introducing the report.

National progress in graduation rates was driven by significant gains made by a dozen states: New York, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. New York and Tennessee stand out because they recorded particularly large gains.

Nine of these states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — were also among those with the biggest declines in dropout factories.

Just one state, Wisconsin, achieved a 90 percent high school graduation rate. But Vermont was close behind, with 89.6 percent of its high school students graduating on time.

Researchers found that graduation rates vary by race, with 91.8 percent of Asian students, 82 percent of whites, 65.9 percent of Hispanics and 63.5 percent of blacks graduating on time.

In this region, Maryland and Virginia saw slight increases in graduation rates in 2009, to 80.1 percent and 78.4 percent, respectively. Researchers did not include the District of Columbia.

When it comes to dropout factories, the South and the suburbs saw the largest declines.

One of the success stories highlighted in the report is Washington County, Md., which increased its high school graduation rate from 78 percent in 2000 to 92 percent in 2010.

Recognizing that it faced a problem, Washington County devised a strategy in 2001 to turn around its sagging graduation rates. Teachers adept at working with struggling students were assigned to those most at risk of dropping out. Intervention specialists were hired. Support was offered to at-risk students before, during and after school. Summer classes and evening high school were expanded to help students complete graduation requirements.Designated staff at a special learning center focused on teen parents.

Today, Washington County’s graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher than the Maryland average.

Some states have not seen progress and, in fact, reported worse graduation rates in 2009, compared with 2002. Those states are Nevada, Connecticut, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Nebraska, Arkansas, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

High school graduation rates have a significant effect on the economy, the authors of the report found.

On average, high school graduates earn $130,000 more over their lifetimes, compared with peers who drop out of school, the study said. Transforming just one student from dropout to graduate would yield more than $200,000 in higher tax revenue and savings for the government over the course of that person’s life, it said.

Economists say that over the next decade, the U.S. workforce will need 22 million college graduates but the country is expected to fall short by 3 million. Business leaders at large and small companies say it is difficult to recruit enough skilled and educated employees in the United States, despite an unemployment rate that is higher than 8 percent.

The 2012 report and additional state-level data will be available at americaspromise.org, civicenterprises.net or every1graduates.
org.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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