The nationwide push toward greater school accountability and common standards has generated a chorus of calls for raising the level of academic rigor in U.S. schools.
More recently, though, has come the realization that academics alone may not be enough: Students have to want to come to school, work hard, and graduate on time. And they have to feel capable of achieving their academic goals. The trick for educators is to figure out how to make that happen.
The new attention to cultivating character traits such as persistence, grit, and self-control in students also reflects the emergence of new knowledge. As a result of the work of researchers such as Stanford University’s Carol S. Dweck, Angela L. Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others, more educators—and researchers—have come to believe that strategies for motivating students are within reach.
At Da Vinci Science High School in Los Angeles, for example, educators are emphasizing “productive failure”—the idea that students benefit from failing and then learning to recover as they work hard to master the concepts that eluded them.
Elsewhere, schools and foundations are testing other levers to keep students on track in school:
• The New York City-based Posse Foundation assembles peer groups to support urban, college-bound students as they make the often-difficult transition from high school to college and then graduation.
• The promise of a college scholarship is the carrot being dangled in front of students in Kalamazoo, Mich.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Oklahoma, and other locations.
• And, at California’s San Ysidro High School, educators have crafted a curriculum that taps into local cultural resources and focuses on community service.
Also worth noting this year is a change in the statistical core of the Diplomas Count report. For the first time, the original graduation-rate analysis will not be based on the Cumulative Promotion Index, or CPI, the calculation method pioneered by Christopher B. Swanson, the vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week‘s parent company.
Because of a delay in the release of the federal data on which the analysis is based, Diplomas Count 2014 instead draws on a recent study from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education’s statistical arm, that uses similar methodology to present national and state graduation rates for the high school class of 2012.
The new federal analysis finds that, for the first time in the nation’s history, more than eight in 10 students are completing high school with a diploma. The national graduation rate rose to 81 percent in 2012, from 78 percent two years earlier.
Still, of the 3.8 million students who entered 9th grade in fall 2008, about 760,000 did not graduate on time.
And while hefty divides continue to separate white and Asian students from their African-American, Latino, and American Indian peers, there is a bright spot: The gains at the national level were largely driven by improvements among Hispanic and African-American students.
Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.