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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

April 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

While US graduation rates climb, Washington hovers below average

In the blizzard of data that serves as currency in education, it’s often tough to tease out the bottom line, the essential message buried in each study. A national report released today, for example, trumpets rising graduation rates across the country – and rightly so.

For the first time in U.S. history, more than 80 percent of high school freshmen are graduating within four years, and much of the improvement stems from dramatic gains among Hispanic and African-American students.

“Our progress is amazing,” said Robert Balfanz, of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins, whose approach to dropout prevention was profiled in an Education Lab story last fall.

Almost 400,000 more high school seniors are graduating now than were in 2002, he said.

But woven within the celebratory tone of “Building a GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic” is this troubling nugget: In 21 states – including Washington – three or four out of every 10 low-income students will not graduate on time.

Further, among special education kids here, the on-time graduation rate is only 58 percent.

This is a serious concern, considering our fast-evolving high-tech economy. In Washington, where business leaders forecast that 70 percent of all jobs will require at least some college education by 2020, only 67 percent of black and Hispanic students are graduating in four years. (This closely tracks our rate for low-income students — 66 percent — which is on par with Alabama and Louisiana, worse than South Carolina and Mississippi.)

Screen shot from 2014 GradNation report

Screen shot from 2014 GradNation report. States in pink represent those with on-time graduation rates of below 80 percent for low-income students.

But the GradNation report does suggest reasons for optimism about an ultimate goal of 90-percent graduation at all U.S. high schools. Through numerous case studies and data-crunching, it shows that attendance-improvement programs, mentoring and targeted dropout prevention have had a measurable effect.

“Gains in this year’s report are both remarkable and encouraging,” said John Gomperts, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance, a sponsor of the report. “The data presented show that these challenges are not insurmountable.”

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