No Joke: Cities in Crisis

April 09, 2008 1 min read

On April 1, America’s Promise Alliance released a report calling attention to graduation rates in the nation’s 50 largest cities. Cities in Crisis

, prepared by the EPE Research Center, found that only about half of the students in main school districts serving those cities graduate from high school.

Some school officials and policymakers probably wish this dismal news was part of an April Fool’s gag, but sadly, it’s not. America’s Promise Alliance is trying to do something about this problem by holding a series of dropout prevention summits in 100 locations throughout the U.S. over the next five years.

Cities in Crisis raised the issue of graduation rate calculations. Currently, states can use their own formulas to calculate graduation rates. The state- and district-reported graduation rates, however, are often higher than the rates found by others.

Here’s what people are saying about graduation rates and Cities in Crisis.

After several years of talk about requiring states to use the same graduation rate formula, it sounds like U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings plans to take some action:

In the coming weeks, I will take administrative steps to ensure that all states use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time—and how many drop out.

The New York Times, April 1, 2008

Roy Romer, former Governor of Colorado and former Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, says he has had it with the state-reported graduation rates:

The inflation of these graduation statistics is a national problem and instead of sweeping this news under the carpet, we need to roll up our sleeves and propose solutions to fix it.

—Roy’s Blog on Schools, March 26, 2008

Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and founder of America’s Promise Alliance, commented on the graduation rates calculated by the EPE Research Center in Cities in Crisis:

You'll be frightened by the numbers you see. The trend is real, and it's a trend that has to be reversed.

Scripps Howard News Service, April 1, 2008

Ed Housewright, Dallas Morning News reporter, was also appalled:

I nearly choked on my breakfast when I read that figure in today's front-page story. Fewer than half of DISD [Dallas Independent School District] students graduate? I can't think of a more depressing statistic for school officials or city leaders. What does our future look like if the "leaders of tomorrow" aren't high school graduates?

—Metro Columnists’ Blog on, April 2, 2008

Robert Balfanz, researcher at Johns Hopkins University, is optimistic that better data and targeted programs can help solve the dropout crisis:

This problem is not only manageable; it's solvable in a decade or less. We can locate the problem. It's not every school; it's not every student.

Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2008

What do you think? Are you surprised by the graduation rates reported in Cities in Crisis? What are the best ways to increase high school graduation rates in the U.S.?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Echo Chamber blog.