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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

U.S. Dept. of Ed. Says Fewer Students Dropping Out of High School

By Peter DeWitt — January 24, 2013 4 min read
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It came as welcomed news when the latest U.S Department of Education report stated that fewer students dropped out of school in the 2009-2010 school year. According to Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Muskal, “The percentage of U.S. students graduating from high school within four years rose to its highest level in decades in 2010, while the rate of those who dropped out fell to one of its lowest in years.”

For decades the public school system has been plagued by negative news and under scrutiny for low high school graduation rates and high student dropout rates. Along with a recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study that suggests, “Prominent international tests skew comparisons of test scores, and U.S. student performance actually ranks much higher than believed,” the public school system seems to be sharing in some good news lately.

The EPI report states, “when comparing apples to apples in weighing U.S. student performance against that of other industrialized countries--U.S. students don’t rank 25th in math, but 10th; and in reading, the country is not 14th, but 4th.”

Although the public school system is improving it does not mean that educators and administrators want to rest on their laurels. Many schools are trying to improve student engagement through the use of BYOD, technology, social media, project-based learning and other student-centered methods of instruction. The latest reports are providing a positive boost that schools really need right now as they continue to deal with budget cuts and increased accountability.

Increased Graduation Rates
It is the first time since the 70’s that the graduation rate was so high and the dropout rate was so low. John Hechinger from Bloomberg reported that, “In the most recent round, Asian-American students had the best performance, at 93.5 percent, trailed by whites at 83 percent. The Hispanic graduation rate of 71.4 percent rose from 65.9 percent, the largest increase of any ethnic group. For blacks, the percentage rose to 66.1 percent from 63.5 percent.”

Clearly, there are still discrepancies between racial groups. In addition, schools in need must be provided with the resources they need to increase their individual graduation rates. There still continues to be marginal differences between urban, rural and suburban school districts which need to be addressed.

According to the U.S. Department of Ed.,
This report presents the number of high school completers, the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR), and the dropout data for grades 9-12 for public schools in school year 2009-10. State Education Agencies (SEAs) report annual counts of completers, dropouts, and enrollments to the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Common Core of Data (CCD) nonfiscal survey of public elementary/secondary education as part of the Cooperative Education Statistics System established in section 157 of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, part C and the U. S. Department of Education’s EDFacts data collection system. Although tables 3 and 7 present data from eight sequential school years, the text presents only comparisons between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.”

Although the National Center for Education Statistics does not offer reasons for the improvement in graduation rates there is speculation it is partly due to a bad economy. Students chose to stay in school because they could not find entry-level jobs. However, according to Hechinger from Bloomberg, “researchers credited elementary school preparation and better tracking of potential dropouts.” Clearly, many factors contribute to the increase in graduation rates and decrease in dropouts.

Hopefully, the good news will continue for a profession that has been on the defensive because of APPR, high stakes testing mania, increased accountability and negative political campaigns. The following are some select findings from the USDOE report.

Select findings:
• Across the United States, a total of 3,128,022 public school students received a high school diploma in 2009-10, resulting in a calculated Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) of 78.2 percent (table 1). This rate ranged from 57.8 percent in Nevada and 59.9 percent in the District of Columbia to 91.1 in Wisconsin and 91.4 percent in Vermont. The median state AFGR was 78.6 percent.
• Across the United States, the AFGR was highest for Asian/Pacific Islander students (93.5 percent) (table 2). The rates for other groups were 83.0 percent for White students, 71.4 percent for Hispanic students, 69.1 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students, 3and 66.1 percent for Black students.3
• A comparison of data from 2009-10 to data from the prior school year, 2008-09, shows a percentage point or greater increase in the AFGR for 38 states (table 3). The AFGR decreased by a percentage point or more for only the District of Columbia during that same time period.
• Across the United States, a total of 514,238 public school students dropped out of grades 9-12, resulting in a calculated overall event dropout rate of 3.4 percent in 2009-10 (table 4). New Hampshire and Idaho had the lowest event dropout rates at 1.2 and 1.4 percent, respectively, while Mississippi and Arizona had the highest at 7.4 and 7.8 percent, respectively. The median state dropout rate was 3.4 percent.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.